Taiko Drums Help Raise Funds as well as Pulses

By Andres Madueno 

“When I come back to Molokai for Obon I feel like I go back in time.” says Naoko Mclellan. As the sun begins to set on Molokai the festival of Obon is just beginning. Young men and women sing and dance to the intense and mesmerizing beat of Taiko drums. Honoring their ancestors and departed loved ones.

This years Obon Bon Dance festival took place at Mitchell Pauole Center. From 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. hosted by the Guzeiji Soto Mission of Molokai. Obon is a Japanese festival where families and friends come together to honor the dead, but instead of mourning, Japanese welcome ancestors back to their families.

Reverend Kokuzo the minister of the Soto Zen Temple at Waipahu on Oahu said, “The Japanese festival of Obon is like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving all in one. We celebrate their spirits coming back to us with song and dance. Mothers or fathers who have passed on, the brave men and women who have given their lives for our safety, we give thanks for all the blessings that have been given to us.”

According to some local Japanese revelers, Obon on Molokai is closer in tradition than today’s celebrations in Japan. They say Obon in Japan has become more carnival like whereas here, the celebration still has strong ties to both the community and the temple.

Visitor Naoko McClellan said that as a child she would light the welcoming fires on a Cucumber and use an Eggplant for the farewell fires. “We used the cucumber because it symbolized the horse so their spirits would come quickly. And eggplants resembled the cow so (the ancestor’s return to the other side would be slow.”

While families danced around the Yagura, the central stage, the spirit of Obon seemed to be alive in everyone. Koki Foster a member of the Guezeiji Temple of the Soto Mission of Molokai said that the Obon festival is also a fund raiser for the Temple. Obon on Molokai is the first to take place on all the islands of Hawaii. Each temple has the celebration at a different time making Obon last until September here in Hawaii. 

There were various exhibits such as Ikebana (flower arranging), Shodo (calligraphy), Sumi-e (brush painting), Gyotaku (fish printing), Origami (paper folding), and Hatchimaki (headband making). While the vendors supplied food and refreshments to keep everyone going through the night.

People of all ages seemed to enjoy the activities that Obon had to offer this year. “I really like Obon because it brings everyone together to celebrate as one. It’s nice to see all the families and friends out here just having a good time,” says Noel Motas a home grown of Molokai. “It’s the third time I’ve been to Obon and it’s a blessing just to be here.”

Faye Komagata director of the Hawaii Matsuri Taiko said she’s been performing at Obon here on Molokai for about 20 yrs now. Not only does her group perform here in Hawaii but they have performed on the mainland and in Japan as well.

While the Taiko drummers played, their beat seemed to be pulsating through the entire audience. Everyone was moving and grooving to rhythm of the drums. “It’s all about enjoying the fellowship and goodwill of people,” said Komagata. Fellowship and goodwill were in abundance at Obon. As the night went on the music never stopped and neither did the good vibes being put out by everyone there. It was an experience that will not soon be forgotten.


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