More about whales

Interesting interview with a local naturalist about the humpbacks:

March/April 2016 Naupaka News
Consultant and Naturalist Claire Muchin Shares Insights

One of the best ways to learn more about and watch the whales more closely is through a whale watch cruise, offered at Waikoloa Beach Resort by Ocean Sports (, a company that has been working in Hawai`i since 1981. We asked Claire Muchin, a consultant and naturalist on the Ocean Sports boats, to share some insights on the humpbacks.
NAUPAKA NEWS: The whales are late arriving in Hawai`i this year … what would cause that?
MUCHIN: Researchers aren’t sure. Some posit that the water stayed warmer longer in the northern areas where the whales feed, so they stayed longer to take advantage of the available calories. Others theorize that the whales migrated on their “normal” schedule, but stayed further offshore when they got to the main Hawaiian Islands because the coastal waters were “uncomfortably warm.”
NN: Does that also mean they will be staying longer than usual?
MUCHIN:The whales migrate to Hawai`i just to mate, calve, and take care of calves. As soon as they’re able to accomplish the particular task they came here to do, they’ll most likely leave (to get back to the food). We’ll know more sometime in May!
NN: Describe the migration … where do the whales go, and when?
MUCHIN:The humpbacks that come to Hawai`i are part of the North Pacific population (there are 11 distinct populations who live in each of the world’s oceans). Of the approximately 20,000 – 22,000 North Pacific Humpbacks, about two-thirds come to Hawai`i. (The rest migrate to waters off of Baja California or the Southern Islands of Japan). For the most part, the humpbacks that come to Hawai`i migrate directly north and spend their summers off the coast of Alaska (from the Gulf of Alaska to the Aleutian Islands). Migration to Hawai`i from Alaska begins in autumn. Interestingly, individual humpbacks will not spend an entire winter here. They may spend as little as two weeks here before heading back … and if a female mates successfully on the way to Hawai`i, she may turn around and swim back to Alaska without even reaching the islands.
NN: We most often think of humpbacks as the primary species frequenting Hawaiian waters, but there are several other species also, correct?
MUCHIN:Humpbacks are the whales who migrate here, but as many as 18 different species of cetaceans live around the islands year-round. We encounter some of them frequently (like spinner dolphins), though most of the others live in deeper water (like sperm whales). But we do see some species like melon head whales, spotted dolphins, false killer whales, and pilot whales on occasion in the coastal waters.
NN: Climate change and warming seas are (pardon the pun) hot topics … how do these phenomena affect the humpbacks’ migration patterns?
MUCHIN:We’re not really sure. Climate change may have had something to do with the later arrival of the whales this year … but we did start seeing them frequently on our charters by December 15th. Up until about four years ago, we didn’t even begin operating whale watch charters until that date because the whales hadn’t arrived until then. So actually, the earlier arrival of the humpbacks the past couple of years may have been the aberration … and what we saw this year may have been the norm.
NN: How do those same conditions affect the health of the whales and their food sources generally?
MUCHIN: That’s a complex question with a complex answer. Many of the small prey fish (like herrings and anchovies) have been schooling nearer to shore in the past year, so that’s where the whales have been found. Everything in the ocean is interrelated.
NN: What are some of the other risks to the whale population these days? Navy sonar? Hunting? Ocean trash/plastics?
MUCHIN: All of the above. Also ship strikes, since the humpback population has increased, more whales are swimming in the shipping lanes. Big ships (like cargo ships) don’t often see the whales and have run into them.
NN: What are some of the main messages you try to get across to visitors on a whale watching cruise?
MUCHIN: We try to get our guests involved in the excitement of seeing the humpbacks and sharing the ocean with them. We’ve found that humpbacks themselves are the ones sharing the important messages.

Found this for a visiting friend

We don’t hike much – just walking the dogs and doing tours when we are traveling, but I have a visiting acquaintance who is an enthusiastic hiker. When she announced that she was coming for an extended stay on the Big Island, I started looking around for some information for her about hikes on the Big Island and came across this excellent article, by Marty Wenzel.  These are some of the really nice short hikes on the Big Island:


With its massive expanse and multiple ecosystems, Hawaii Island has trails for all types of hikers. Some routes wind through rainforests, others lead to waterfalls and still others meander through volcanic landscapes.

Even for clients with little time or energy, the destination offers satisfying options for short, scenic strolls. Here are five of our favorite easy trails on Hawaii Island.

Akaka Falls Loop (.4 mile)

Just north of Hilo on the island’s east side, this family-friendly paved footpath loops through a dense rainforest enlivened by groves of bamboo, orchids and ferns. The first highlight is a view of Kahuna Falls, a 100-foot-high beauty. Around another bend, clients get an eyeful of 442-foot Akaka Falls, a spectacular photo op. The region tends to be rainy, so visitors should bring jackets. 

Kalopa Nature Trail (.7 mile)

Another good walk for families, this trail is located near Honokaa town, 40 miles north of Hilo. The area’s wet climate results in prolific vegetation, some of which is endemic to the island. Old-growth ohia trees, smaller trees, shrubs and lacy ferns abound here, making it a magical walk in the woods. At 2,000-foot elevation, it’s cool enough to warrant an extra layer of clothing.  

Kilauea Iki Trail (4 miles)

On this popular trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, clients start with a stroll through a spellbinding rainforest. The descent into Kilauea Iki crater leads to a dramatic expanse of rocks and steaming vents. Young ohia trees poke up through lava from a 1959 eruption, creating a photo-worthy landscape. Since the park is located at 4,000 feet, clients should wear layers. 

Kipukapuaulu Loop Trail (1.2 miles)

Here’s another Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gem. This upland trail snakes through some of the area’s older forests, which are surrounded by lava flows from Mauna Loa volcano. Hikers can see rare plants and trees, easily identified thanks to a brochure keyed to numbered sites. Many varieties of birds serenade visitors, which explains the area’s nickname, Bird Park.

Pololu Valley Trail (1 mile roundtrip)

At the end of Hwy. 270 at the northern side of the island awaits this popular Hawaii Island hike. Near the trailhead, a lookout provides glorious views of cliffs that tumble to the sea. A short hike downhill leads to Pololu Valley, home of a black-sand beach. While not recommended for swimming due to strong currents, it’s a wild and wonderful spot to picnic while gazing at the waves.


By Marty Wenzel

Kohola – Whales in Hawaiian Culture

Unlike the indigenous cultures of the far north, the Polynesia cultures did not typically hunt whales, although they did greatly revere them and utilize any that were beached in the islands. Maori and Hawaiian legends both speak of being led to their island homes by whales. The Maori have many legends of whale riders – individuals who were saved from ship wreck, storm or attempted murder by whales. Both cultures traditionally view the whale as a manifestation of the sea god – Kanaloa in Hawaii, Tangaroa in Maori tradition.

Although not as common as the owl, hawk, turtle, shark, or gecko, the whale – kohola – is also a form of ‘aumakua, or family guide and guardian manifesting the spirit of a powerful ancestor. There were a number of terms for whale, some reflecting different species, but kohola was the most common, usually referring to the humpback whale, while palaoa was used to refer to the tooted whales, and also to whale teeth and whale ivory. Particularly prized were the teeth of the sperm whale, and beached whales were reserved for the ali’i.

The Hawaiian proverb, “`O luna, `o lalo, `o uka, `o kai, `o ka palaoa pae — no ke ali`i ia” translates to “Above, below, the upland, the lowland, the whale that washes ashore–all belong to the chief.” This refers to the absolute authority of the royal class. On rare occasions, the carcass of a toothed whale would wash ashore, and immediately became the possession of the chief.

Lei niho paloa
Lei niho palaoa

The ivory of the palaoa was removed and made into a niho palaoa, a whale-tooth pendant. The ivory was carved into the suggestive shape of a tongue, which may have signified someone who spoke with authority. It might also represent a container for the mana or spiritual power that the necklace represented. The niho palaoa was then strung through strands of braided human hair from an ancestor, and the entire piece was known as a whale-tooth necklace, or lei niho palaoa.


Ali'i wearing feather cloak and helmet and lei niho palaoa
Ali’i wearing feather cloak and helmet and lei niho palaoa

The lei niho palaoa could only be worn by the ali`i, or the high ruling chief or chiefess, and was the second most treasured possession after the feather cloak.

The lei niho palaoa represented strength and power, and the belief was that the mana, or spirit of the gods, would be passed on to the wearer of the lei niho palaoa, as would the mana from the ancestor whose hair was used, the carver who made the piece, and all those who wore it beforehand. The carved hook was strung on finely braided strands of human hair, up to 1,700 feet long, gathered into two large coils. Hair, coming from the head, the most supernaturally powerful and sacred part of the body, was a sacred substance that enhanced the mana of the necklace, and enhanced the power of the wearer. The places where the whales washed up – called wahi pana or sacred places, were considered important areas to control, and in some cases, the chief who controlled these spots, such as Kualoa on O’ahu, might also control the entire island.


Portrait of Boki and Liliha
Portrait of Boki and Liliha – two high ranking ali’i from the reign of Kamehameha II – she wears the lei niho palaoa, he the feathered cloak and helmet

It is not known why the Polynesians, unlike the native peoples of Alaska and the Northwest, never hunted whales nor, typically, ate whale meat, but it might be as simple as they felt that the meat lacked taste. It is also likely that the Hawaiians’ subsistence life-style, coupled with a benign climate did not create a need for the large food supply that could be obtained from a whale, and it could have been more trouble than it was worth to hunt, butcher, and preserve the meat when there were so many other food sources readily available.

It might also be that the animal was considered too sacred to exploit in this way, and, indeed, it was kapu (forbidden) for commoners to possess any part of a whale. The Hawaiian culture did view the whale as the animal form of their sea god, and knowledge of the whales’ place in the culture may have been reserved for the highest ranking chiefs and priests, as, certainly, the products of the whale that were evident in the culture were.



As is true in most traditional cultures, the native Hawaiians used the moon and the stars to demark their year. Their daily lives were lived in accordance to the moon calendar which indicated when planting, harvesting, fishing and hunting activities would occur. Each month was named for the typical weather conditions or for the effects of the lunar cycle on plants and animals. Each of the Hawaiian islands had slight variations in the months because of differing distances from the equator.

The seasonal calendar was divided into two – the dry and the wet. The dry season was called Kau, and the wet was Ho’oilo. Within the wet and dry seasons were roughly quarter markers – Kau begins in what wo

The Pleadies
The Pleadies

uld be the end of April through the end of May in the modern calendar, called Welo, marked by the setting of the constellation of the Pleiades – in Hawaiian Hu Hui Hoku – in the western skies at sunrise. Toward the end of Kau, Hu Hui Hoku appears in the eastern skies at sunset, and denotes the beginning of the Makahiki celebrations.

The Makahiki season is the time for the coming of Lono, the deity of agriculture, healing and peace. The Makahiki season arrives during the month of `Ikuwa (Oct. 24 through Nov. 22) and runs through roughly February on the modern calendar. It was during the previous month, Mahoe Hope (Sept. 25 through Oct. 23), that preparations were made for the four month Makahiki season. These preparations included harvesting, drying and storing both agricultural and aquatic foods for the celebrations.

In addition to the feasting and celebrations, it was also the time for the collecting of taxes and for processions of the ali’i around the islands. Today, the Makahiki is celebrated as a part of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance and traditional games and sports are practiced, typically by school children. The traditional sports were practiced largely by the warriors to demonstrate their strength and prowess and included various forms of wrestling, tugs of war – individual and group – spear throwing, and races. For a more in depth look and some pictures of the traditional and the contemporary practices, check out this link to an article from Kamehameha Schools:

33 years ago

I always know when I first came to the Big Island, as I left on the day that Kilauea started to erupt. January 3 was the 33rd anniversary of beginning of the current East Rift Zone eruption at Pu’u O’o vent. Since that day in January of 1983, the eruption has destroyed more than 200 structures, including the Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park visitor center, the Royal Gardens subdivision and many homes and buildings in the town of Kalapana. On June 27, 2014, after decades of mostly southern flows, moving towards the ocean, the flows turned towards the town of Pahoa, which was under threat for months and remains below an active, but much reduced flow front that has seemingly stalled, at least for now. Life there has returned to an uneasy normal, as residents settle, a little nervously, back into Tutu Pele’s lap.

The current ongoing eruption cycle began along the middle of the east rift zone. By April of 1983, the eruptions became localized at one vent where lava fountains built a cinder and spatter cone 836 feet high (255 meters) that was named Pu`u `Ō`ō. The frequent short eruptions produced thick chunky lava flows that usually cooled and halted before reaching the coast. However, in July 1983, the lava made its inexorable advance into the nearby Royal Gardens subdivision and destroyed 16 homes leading to the abandonment of the expensive subdivision.

By 1986, lava flows cut through the town of Kalapana as the lava made its way to the sea. As the lava field spread, cooled and spread again over the next three years it destroyed many homes and the Visitor Center in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. In March 1990, Kilauea entered its most destructive eruption period in modern history and throughout the summer more than 100 homes, a church and a store were buried beneath 50 to 80 feet (15 to 24 meters) of lava.

On March 3, 2012, the very last house in the Royal Gardens subdivision was abandoned by 61-year-old Jack Thompson. For years, Thompson had watched as lava claimed the homes of his neighbors, leaving the area to Thompson and a few hardy squatters. The last roads leading to Royal Gardens were closed in 2008, forcing Thompson to hike several miles to reach an access road whenever he needed something from town, but he still refused to leave. Finally on the morning of March 3, Thompson and a friend were evacuated by helicopter as lava finally consumed his home.

In 2008 an explosive event at Halema`uma`u Kilauea’s summit crater, signaled the return of lava to the summit caldera for the first time since 1924.  When the vent first opened in March, it was about 115 feet wide, and lava became visible within the vent about six months later.  The lava lake rises and falls with changes in the magma pressure.  Wall collapses have triggered several explosive events, most recently on the 8th of January of this year, and lava has been at the surface a few times over the last few months.  Whenever this occurs, visitor numbers increase dramatically, making Kilauea one of a relative handful of the world’s volcanos where people flock to rather than run from eruptions!

A two-mile stretch of Crater Rim Dr. remains closed to this day due to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas and other hazards, though the eruption itself has become a major attraction.

“What’s wonderful about this particular summit eruption is that it is accessible to nearly everyone and it’s right here in the main part of the park,” said Jessica Ferracane, public affairs specialist, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. “The closest you can get is from the Jaggar Museum Overlook. People can park their car, walk a few steps along the paved walkway, and voila — one of the largest lava lakes in the world erupting right before their eyes.”

Park officials say visitation numbers have risen steadily ever since. In 2013, 1,583,209 visitors came to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 6.7 percent jump from 2012. In 2012, visitor numbers were up 9.7 percent from the year before and in 2013 there were 1,583,209 visitors to the park, up from 1,483,928 visitors in 2012.  Visitor spending in 2012 (the latest available data) was $113,376,400 in communities near the park, and, according to the National Park Service, that spending supports more than 1,300 jobs in the area.

Here is the National Parks video of the January 8 explosion:


We recently had our fourth shark attack in Hawaiian waters in the space of about a month – very unusual according to all the contemporary pundits, not so surprising if you look to traditional lore, though.  The ancient Hawaiians cautioned about being in the ocean during October and November for fear of shark attacks.  Turns out to be the ‘pupping’ season for tiger sharks, and that species accounts for the preponderance of shark attacks in Hawaii.   There are a number of shark species in local waters including some of the more aggressive ones like hammerheads and occasionally, the infamous “Jaws” shark, the Great White.  Probably the most common though are the reef sharks and tiger sharks, with the tigers being the most likely to be implicated in attacks on humans.

The conventional wisdom about sharks being more likely, for whatever reason, to attack in the fall months is borne out by extensive research carried out by the University of Hawaii.  Even more striking than the simple spike in numbers of attacks in those months is the relationship between the number of people in the ocean and the number of attacks.  One would anticipate that the number of attacks might rise with the numbers of people in the ocean available to be nibbled on, but such is not the case – in fact, the numbers of people of in the ocean drop in October and November, while the number of attacks goes up.

These charts illustrate the point quite clearly:


Courtesy of Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources



This graphic depicts only confirmed unprovoked incidents, defined by the International Shark Attack File as “incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark. Incidents involving…shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans (most often drowning victims), attacks on boats, and provoked incidents occurring in or out of the water are not considered unprovoked attacks.”





Month No. In Water
Jan 323339
Feb 324620
Mar 395156
Apr 367693
May 429794
Jun 487993
Jul 540008
Aug 547245
Sep 440906
Oct 391047
Nov 344158
Dec 340685



Month Non-fatal Fatal
Jan 7  
Feb 5 1
Mar 11  
Apr 10 1
May 6  
Jun 11  
Jul 8 1
Aug 9 1
Sep 4  
Oct 23  
Nov 13 2
Dec 9 1


In contrast to contemporary attitudes about sharks, the Hawaiians included them in the pantheon of forms that the gods could take and they also could serve as a family’s aumakua, or protector.  The aumakua were the spirits of ancestors who could, at need, inhabit the body of specific animals, often owls, sharks, and turtles, but almost any creature could be an aumakua and for the family, that particular species had special meaning even though it was well understood that not all sharks or turtles, etc were possessed of the spirits of the ancestors.  There are many tales about shark aumakua and, indeed, for a sea faring people who spent a great deal of time on and in the ocean, a shark aumakua was a very strong one to have.

Here is one of the better known legends:


“See that shark!”

“He’s a big one! What do you suppose he wants?”

As the men paddled toward the Kona coast they watched the great shark following their canoe. “What do you want, old shark?” one asked at last. “Do you know that we carry pa`i`ai to Kona to our relatives? Do you eat poi, O shark? Here then!” and the man threw a small bundle toward the shark.

The great fish did not catch and swallow the food but pushed it with his nose. The men saw him swimming toward shore, pushing the little bundle through the waves. They watched him as long as he was in sight. “That is a strange thing,” Aukai said. “He seemed to know we had a load of pa`i`ai.”

“But he did not eat it,” another answered. “Whoever saw a shark pushing food through the waves as that one did?” “And why did he want it?” Aukai asked again. “Where is he taking it?”

The next week these men again paddled from Kohala to Kona with pa`i`ai, the dry, pounded kalo from which poi is made. Again the shark followed and again swam toward the shore pushing before him the small bundle thrown to him. This happened many times.

Then one day Aukai said, “I mean to find out about that shark. You paddle toward Kona with the food and throw a bundle to the shark as you always do. I shall follow in a small canoe and see if I can learn what the shark does with the bundle.”

Aukai’s canoe was some distance behind the larger one. He saw the men throw the bundle of food and watched the shark swim with it to a Kona beach. Then a strange thing happened. Aukai saw an old man come down the beach, leaning on a stick. Aukai watched as the old man picked up the bundle and hobbled to his house.

Very curious, the Kohala man beached his canoe beyond a point of land and walked along the shore. He came to the house the old man had entered. “O friend,” he called, “here is a thirsty one. Can you give me a drink?”

The old man hobbled to the door. “Come in, drink and eat. Our water is a bit brackish, but it will cure your thirst.” He brought a gourd of water. Then brought fish and poi. “Eat,” he repeated.

Aukai took the food. He had looked quickly about the little place and noticed that only the man and his wife lived there. Still he wondered. “This food tastes good to a hungry traveler,” he said. “I thank you, old man. But I wonder at the poi. Can one so old as you work in the kalo patch?”

“Alas no,” the old man answered. “And we have no relative in this village to bring food. But in the bay we have a friend. A good shark brings us fish. Of late, he brings poi too. Every few days he comes with a bundle of pa`i`ai for us. I pound it with fresh water and make the good poi which you taste.”

“Where does the shark get the pa`i`ai?” Aukai asked, wondering whether the man knew.

The old man answered simply, “The gods provide.”

Aukai paddled back to his Kohala village and told what he had seen and heard. The people were full of wonder and sympathy. “The poor old folks,” they said. “With no child to care for them!” And, “What a wise shark! After this he shall have a big bundle of food each week.”

A so he did. For many months the shark was given a big bundle of pa`i`ai whenever they went to Kona, and the bundle was dropped for him close to the beach where the old couple lived.

Then one day the shark did not come. The next week, still, he was not seen. “I shall take the food,” Aukai said, and paddled straight to the old man’s village. He found the little home empty. Not even mats or bowls were there. Aukai went to a neighbor. “I have come to see the old man who used to live in that house,” he told him pointing.

“He is dead,” the neighbor answered, “and his wife has gone to relatives in another village.”

Aukai paddled back to Kohala and told his friends. “The shark’s work is done,” he said. The shark was never seen again.

Told by Mary Kawena Puku`i
Taken from Hawai`i Island Legends, Pikoi, Pele and Others,
compiled by Mary Kawena Puku`i, retold by Caroline Curtis

If the shark was your family aumakua, you didn’t kill or eat shark, but for others, the shark provided many useful tools as well as being used as a food fish.  Another old Hawaiian legend tells of a woman who freed herself from a shark by telling it that he was her aumakua. The shark let her go and said he would recognize her in the future by the tooth marks he left on her ankle. Since then, it is said, some Hawaiian people tattoo their ankles to let sharks know that their aumakua is a shark.

In addition to tattoos, the shark tooth pattern is also a popular design element both in kapa, or barkcloth and in the elaborate feather cloaks.  One such example in the Bishop Museum, belonging to Kiwalaa`o, a fellow warrior of King Kamehameha, is decorated with five equilateral triangles — a motif depicting shark teeth. In battle, the fierceness of the shark  was associated with the wearer of the cloak or the cloth.

Sharks teeth were also used in tools and weapons. Tools utilized sharks teeth for cutting edges, functioning like a knife for cutting designs into bamboo stampers for kapa and for carving detailed designs into drums and gourds.  Wooden clubs and daggers lined with shark teeth were deadly in battle.  Shark skins were used for sandpaper and also for drum heads.  Shark tooth ornaments were also worn.

Whatever your relationship with sharks might be it is wise to stay out of the ocean at dawn and dusk, or when you have an open and bleeding wound, or when the water is ‘brown’ and murky, such as after a storm, and, if you believe the statistics AND the ancients, during October and November!



Been a while

Since we got home and there hasn’t been much that inspired me to write, first with the cold and the post trip catch up and subsequently just getting back into my regular routines. So, it feels like time for a bit of a catch up.

We do try, for the most part, to schedule an ‘away from home’ time in October when the Ironpeople are here, but this year, as well as last, we have been here for the big event. It isn’t my favorite time to be on island by any stretch of the imagination, as the iron-folk move in like a conquering army, many with either a strong sense of entitlement, or so much focus on the race that they check their brains at the airport on the way here. The signs go up from the race supporters reminding all us residents that we have to be extra careful of the ‘Athletes in Training’ and for the last week or two of September and the first week or two of October you can anticipate that zero body fat (yes, you DO hear a little resentment there…) people on bikes will decide suddenly and without warning to change sides of the road, cutting across traffic in both directions with no signal or indication, simply expecting that traffic will stop and allow them to complete this brainless maneuver.

Poor Kona residents get to put up with the run and swim training as well as the bikes, and are also treated to people in speedos showing up everywhere from restaurants to Walmart – this got to be such a local issue a few years back that some people invented the ‘Underpants Run’ as a mockery of the speedo wearers, but it in turn got to be a sort of inside joke and is now a fund raiser and an official part of the annual Ironman festivities.

The only good or interesting thing for me this Iron-season was that when I was in one of the local grocery stores, I saw Gordon Ramsay shopping (all decked out in his Ironman gear and wearing bike shorts and fluorescent sneakers) – he was here for Ironman, raising money for a charity in England, but he didn’t complete the course as it turned out. Did the swim, but got ill on the bike ride and had to drop out.

So, that was finally over on the 10th of October for another year (although it seems like we have some kind of triathlon about every other month now, just not as big) and life is drifting back into normalcy. We had the opportunity to go over to the Hilo side and up to Volcanos National Park this week. Some friends were here on a cruise ship and we made the trek over the Saddle Road to see them and went up to the summit. Unfortunately, no red lava, but lots of steam and smoke visible. We took a side trip down around Pahoa, which is also getting back to normal as the flow that threatened the town remains in abeyance since around Christmas time last year. There is still some activity along the margins and around Pu’u O’o vent but so far Pahoa is okay.

The University of Hawaii has done a study in the area, though, assessing community response and resiliency to both acute and long term stress, since the community was first hit by a hurricane, and then was, and continues to be under threat from the lava flow. Not surprisingly, the community resilience was found to be tied to the reactions and leadership of a few key individuals in the community, but driving around in the area, you would never really know that there was a disaster waiting in the wings to happen.

Other than that, we’re just back to our regular activities, and starting to get serious about our planning for our Spring travels – back again to Europe, but this time to Italy and France.

Big Island Independence Day

Fish pond on Mauna Lani Bay ground
Fish pond on Mauna Lani Bay ground

We have some fun traditions here on the Big Island for the 4th of July. One of my personal favorites is Turtle Independence Day. This event has been held at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel for the last 25 years and has gone from a fairly low key event when we first went to it to a major extravaganza now.


Crowds watching turtle release at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel

From a few hundred folks who showed up to watch the turtle release back in 1998 when we moved here, the event has grown enormously, now covering two days, with educational events for kids on the 3rd, and rides, games, and a barbecue for 1,500 or so attendees, as well as the turtle release now.


Lucky youngsters who get to release one of the turtles on Turtle Independence Day

In cooperation with Sea Life Park on Oahu, the Mauna Lani Bay ‘fosters’ baby sea turtles in one of the remaining traditional salt water fish ponds found on their grounds, until the turtles have achieved a size to be unlikely to fall prey to the various predators of baby turtle – usually around three to four years old and around 40 pounds in weight – and then they are removed from the pond and kids who are staying at the hotel get to release them into the bay in front of the hotel.

Newly released honu headed for his new home

The turtles are checked for overall health and then blessed by a local kahu – traditional Hawaiian priest, prior to their release into the wild. It has been an enormously successful program over the years with over 200 turtles nurtured here and released back into Hawaiian waters, helping sustain this endangered species.

Another long time tradition is the Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo and Horse Race.  This year will mark the 53rd year of this venerable event.  Held near the town of Waimea at the Parker Ranch headquarters, the rodeo features a variety of roping events, horse racing at different distances, and a variety of activities for the children including roping practice and a petting zoo.


Starting with a parade of the participating local paniolo, the event runs for half a day and also includes the unique to Hawaiian rodeos event called Poo wai U – a demonstration of skills developed by the early paniolo for handling wild cattle in wooded areas.  The paniolo would rope the wild cow around the horns and then tie it off to a tree to allow it to tire itself out and become more tractable before being herded to an enclosure.  Here’s a video of the Poo Wai U event from the 2013 Parker Ranch Labor Day Rodeo.

Of Cows and Cowboys


Statute commissioned by Paniolo Preservation Society of Ikua Purdy, located at Parker Ranch Center in Waimea on the Big Island

We happen to live in a development that was created out of ranch land, and until we reach a specific level of density and build out (not likely to happen in my lifetime) our homeowner’s association still has a grazing contract with the original property owner. That means we have cows, and, due to the very canny ranch owner, the cows have the right of way, and they are ‘free range’ – which means that they get to go where they want, and it is the individual property owner’s responsibility to keep them out of whereever you don’t want them to go.

We have fencing, but our driveway gate is broken, and two days this past week I have had the unenviable task of getting some fairly agressive cows to leave off munching my landscaping and leave. The dogs tried to help, but the cows don’t think too much of my little ten pounders, noisy though they are. “Our” cows are various breeds of beef cattle, mostly Angus, some Charlois, and recently some banded breed – I suspect they are Belted Galloways as they were bred to flourish under poor grazing conditions in the Scottish highlands. Still, moving cattle around isn’t something this city girl is all that used to doing, but I did ‘cowgirl up’ and get them to move out of the yard.

All of which started me thinking about cows and how they got here to begin with. It all started with Captain Vancouver in 1793. He picked up some cows in Monterey California, intending them as gifts for Kamehameha The Great. The first group didn’t fare too well, ending up quickly either dying of illness or being killed for food. A second batch was delivered in 1794, and Vancouver encouraged Kamehameha to put a 10 year kapu on the herd so that it had time to grow.

Kamehameha did this, and within a very few decades, the herd not only grew and flourished, like a lot of other introduced species, the cows became a nuisance and a hazard. By the time of Kamehameha III, in 1846, there were 25,000 feral cattle (and these were long horns with horn spreads upwards of 6 feet) and an additional 10,000 domesticated or semi-domesticated head. Vast herds disrupted traditional agricultural practices, knocked down houses and canoe sheds, ate the thatching off the roofs of homes, and even hurt or killed people.

After the kapu was lifted in 1830, the hunting of wild cattle was encouraged. The king hired bullock hunters from overseas to help in the effort. Many of these were former convicts from Botany Bay in Australia. Hunting sometimes ended in inadvertent tragedy. In 1834, the trampled dead body of Scottish botanist David Douglas – for whom the Douglas Fir is named – was discovered a bullock pit on Mauna Kea. Though suspicious head wounds and a quantity of missing cash also implied murder, bullock traps caught unsuspecting humans with alarming frequency.

Finally, in 1832, after being petitioned repeatedly by his people to do something about the ravages of the feral cattle, Kamehameha III sent one of his high chiefs to California to hire cowboys who could round up wild cattle and teach Hawaiians cattle and horse handling skills. Three Mexican-Spanish vaquero (cowboys) named Kossuth, Louzeida and Ramon came to Hawai’i Island, first breaking in horses to turn them into working animals, then rounding up and handling the hordes of cattle. They taught the skills of their trade to the Hawaiians, including horsemanship, roping, saddle making, braiding of leather for lariats and also playing the guitar – which the Hawaiians ultimately adapted into the unique ‘slack key’ style in use today.

The Hawaiians proved to be apt students, and became known as paniolo, a corruption of español, the language the vaqueros spoke. The term is still in use today, and there is a Paniolo Preservation Society on the Big Island devoted to maintaining these skills and traditions.  Hawaiians became paniolo before the territories of the American West had cowboy or ranch traditions. Cowboys in the Pacific Northwest got their start in 1846; in California and Texas it was 1848. Because Hawaiians began their work with cattle and horses more than a decade earlier, their paniolo traditions were strongly shaped by the Mexican vaquero heritage that stemmed originally from Spain. By 1836, Hawai’i had working cowboys. Whereas, what we consider “American” cowboys date back only to the 1870s, after Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn. That’s when vaqueros from Mexico began teaching Texans to ride and rope. It was then that Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arizona – the “wild west” – became ranch country. (Though the Spanish had been running cattle for centuries before.)

Through the years, many paniolo proved themselves exceptional athletes, horse handlers and cattlemen. Three drew the attention of a wider audience when they competed in the 1908 Frontier Days celebration in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the top contest for cattlemen and ranchers of the day. Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low, owner and manager of Pu`uwa`awa`a Ranch, attended Frontier Days in 1907 and knew his ranch hands could do better than the mainland cowboys. In 1908, he paid for three of his top men – Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`au`a (Eben’s half-brother) and Jack Low (Eben’s brother) – to go to the competition.


Purdy, Low, and Ka'au'a
Purdy, Low, and Ka’ua’a


Ikua was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1873 in Waimea. He was the second son – one of nine children – of William Purdy and Anna P. Waipa. As the Hawaiian-Irish offspring of Anna, he was a great-grandson of John Palmer Parker, founder of Parker Ranch, and Kipikane, granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. Ikua learned to ride and rope on the grasslands and upland forests of Waimea and Mauna Kea. He was a working paniolo who competed in roping events on the Big Island, O’ahu & Maui. Hawai’i’s most famous singer/story teller, Clyde “Kindy” Sproat, speaks with great aloha for Purdy as well as Archie Ka’au’a – who took third in the world championships that same year – and their patron and promoter, Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low. He says he learned about Ikua “from the horse’s mouth – Eben Low,” when Kindy was a child. “Eben Low was a successful rancher and very proud of the skills of Hawai’i’s paniolo. So he secured the invitation to compete in the 1908 Frontier Days World Championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming,” said Sproat, who has shared stories about Hawai’i’s most famous paniolo on several occasions at the Smithsonian Institute. The invitation read: “Bring your saddle and lariat; horses will be provided at the rodeo.” Conditions in Cheyenne – especially the cold – were difficult for the Hawaiians. They were an instant curiosity with odd, slouched hats and colorful hat bands, peculiar saddles and bright clothes – an exotic blend of Hawaiian and vaquero influence and tradition. What’s more, they spoke a foreign language – native Hawaiian. Cheyenne didn’t know what to make of the paniolo. They believed these strangers didn’t stand a chance; they were riding borrowed mounts. But on the day of the competition, Ikua roped his steer in fifty-six seconds flat. The rest is history.


Kindy recalls Eben’s explanation about why Hawaiian cowboys were able to compete for the championship: “Our paniolo had to catch wild cattle. They would set up ropers at the edge of a kipuka (a densely overgrown piece of land entirely surrounded by newer lava). The cattle would run by on the fly and the cowboys had to be ready with horses in good condition. They’d only get one swing of the lasso to catch a longhorn or it would get away. Therefore, when Hawaiians first encountered rodeo-style roping of fast-running cattle, it was what they did everyday.”

The paniolo made a colorful entrance in Cheyenne, wearing their vaquero-inspired chaps and hats with flower lei. They wowed the spectators with their performances too. In the World Championship finals, Ikua Purdy won the steer-roping contest in 56 seconds. Archie Ka`au`a came in second and Jack Low, despite suffering an asthma attack during the competition, placed sixth. Against the best American cowboys, Hawaii’s paniolo proved their worth.

In 1999, Ikua Purdy was voted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the first Hawaiian ever to be nominated. That same year he was the first inductee to the Paniolo Hall of Fame established by the O`ahu Cattlemen’s Association. In 2003, a large bronze statue of Purdy roping a steer was placed in Waimea town on the Big Island, erected by the Paniolo Preservation Society.

And Mushrooms

Continuing on the foodie theme – Hawaii Island also is home to the state’s only commercial level mushroom farm, located in a 16,000 foot industrial building on 35 acres on the slopes of Mauna Kea, to the south of the fabled Waipio Valley in the town of Laupahoehoe.

More than 200 restaurants across the state serve Hamakua Mushrooms, and they are available in Costco and 70 other grocery outlets. And now, aficionados can also tour the operation and see how the fungi are grown and processed for sale.

Retired Navy pilot RIchard Stanga and his wife Janice resisted the idea of tours for a long time, because of the demanding nature of their selected method of cultivation of their mushrooms. Unlike most other operations which grow mushrooms in the dark and in manure, the Stangas use a Japanese cultivation method growing mushrooms in a sterile environment using biodegradable containers made of eucalyptus sawdust mixed with wheat bran and corn cobs, and the mushrooms are grown in the light rather than in the dark. The mushrooms are grown in tightly controlled conditions where the lighting, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels are all monitored.

Visitors are required to walk through a foot bath so than no contaminants are introduced during the tour. Following that, there is a 12 minute introductory video, and then visitors are allowed to observe (through large glass windows) the sterile incubation, harvesting and packing rooms.

When the couple started the farm in 2003, the yield was about 50 pounds a week. Today the Stangas are producing 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per week and employ 16 people. They produce several varieties of mushrooms including the ali’i oyster, gray oyster, and abalone mushrooms, and also the pioppini mushroom which was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The 70 minute tour concludes with a cooking demonstration and a taste testing, and there is also a gift shop selling cook books, T-shirts, a wide range of mushroom products (cookies, teas and even dog treats!) It is advisable to book in advance and admission is $20 for adults. More information is available at their website at  Be sure to check out the time lapse videos on their website that show the oysters growing.