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Paniolo Round Up for Rodeo

This Saturday, 80 paniolo from around the state will gather at the Jimmy Duvauchelle Arena for the first annual Molokai Ranch Heritage Rodeo, to celebrate a colorful slice of Hawaiian culture that was born to counter an environmental problem in mid-1800s Hawaii.

At that time, with newly introduced cattle threatening native crops and people, according to hawaiihistory.org, Kamehameha III realized the need to round up the rampaging livestock. He invited Mexican cowboys to the islands to instruct Hawaiians in horse riding and cattle herding, creating the paniolo and ranching lifestyle that is still a way of life for many in Hawaii.

“It’s such an important part [of Hawaiian culture],” said Oahu-born musician Brother Noland, who has ranching roots and will be performing at the rodeo. “Just the whole thing of how Hawaiian people can adapt, how they can turn themselves into cowboys. … As the industry changed over the years, the people changed, too.”

Rodeo Director Rex Kamakana said that kane, wahine and keiki ranging from ages five to mid-70s will compete in nearly a dozen different events, with multiple racing and roping competitions as well as bull riding. Prizes include custom belt buckles, and the cowboy and cowgirl with the most points will receive custom saddles.

Kamakana added this year is the beginning of what the ranch hopes will be a yearly event.

“We’ve had it in the past, but we’re trying to revive it again,” he said.

For many, rodeo is a family affair. A lot of participants in this Saturday’s event are family members, said Kamakana, who has traveled around the state and the mainland with his family for roping competitions.

“It’s just something that I found that I can do with my entire family,” he said. “I ride, my wife rides, my kids all ride.”

The rodeo will also include food booths and live entertainment, featuring Noland and fellow Grammy Award-winning musicians Henry Kapono and John Cruz, who together perform as the “Rough Riders.” Kapono said the three will play collaborations of their individual songs as well as other Hawaiian hits and cowboy-inspired pieces. Nolan said he feels Hawaiian music by nature has a country feel to it because both are “very family based and culturally based.”

“We have a couple things we worked out that will get all the cowboys on their horses and riding,” said Kapono with a chuckle. “[Our music is] just kinda something where we can recreate and reinvent and really have fun doing that. It’s an extension of all three of us.”

Noland, who grew up on a ranch on Hawaii Island, said he’s been coming to Molokai since the 70s and is eager to show the island to his fellow musicians, who’ve only visited briefly before.

“The music is gonna be reflective of how beautiful the place is,” he said. “Molokai, it’s like … the piko, the center of these islands. It’s small, it’s in the middle and the people are big and strong hearted and spirited.”

Ranch Chief Executive Officer Clay Rumbaoa said in a press release that the rodeo is an opportunity to showcase Molokai’s culture and hospitality.

“We look forward to sharing the cultural heritage of the Friendly Isle with spectators and participants,” he said. “Authentic hospitality is part of our fundamental vision to strengthen our island community while preserving its greatest assets: the hospitality of its people, the natural environment, and the rich cultural heritage and traditions.”

The rodeo will take place Saturday, April 25 from 6-10 p.m. at Molokai Ranch’s arena in Maunaloa. Tickets at the door are $12, while entrance is free for those 12 and under.

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