100 Years of Waimea Cowboys

100 years ago, three young Hawaiian cowboys made the long trek to Wyoming to compete in the World Roping Championship. They spoke Hawaiian, had peculiar Hawaiian-style saddles, and wore bright hakulei on their hats-- Old West Cheyenne didn't know what to do with these foreign oddities on borrowed horses. They certainly didn't expect much from them. And then the young "children of Waimea" showed their stuff-- they not only held their own in the competition, Ikua Purdy won the whole thing outright. His victory is still sweet. It is immortalized in song: "Rough Riders" and "Waiomina" and many more.

Last Wednesday was the opening event for a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of that triumph. We gathered with the crowd in the cold needly kipuupuu rain outside Kahilu theatre waiting for the doors to open and admit 500 of us to the free exhibit, lecture and concert. When the doors finally opened, we pressed into the foyer where Kanu O Ka Aina middle schoolers passed out plates of smoke meat and steamed sweet potato from green woven trays. The walls were hung with hundred of pictures of Waimea cowboys and their ranching descendants: lean grim-faced Ikua stares out from his picture like a sentinel. His descendants, still in Waimea, perch on their horses, and lean seriously on their saddle horns.

Next to the Purdies on the wall are the Lindseys, our landlords and the Bertelmanns-- our friend Pomai as a little girl, sitting with her daddy on a horse, and then her handsome nephews in the pasture and her willowy 13 year old niece pinning a calf to the ground. Across the room, a young Uncle Duke Kapuniai slouches on one of his prize-winning horses in a coral full of beef-bodies. His daughter sits on her horse above him like a dancer--back completely straight, like her mother the organist. A beautiful young Aunty Val, sweaty, dusty and with a black eye, beams at the camera after a rodeo event, with her two little boys on her lap.

The photo exhibit was organized by the Kanu O Ka Aina kids, who dug up their family photos to display. Aunty Val, the Kanu photography maven, said how impressive the family histories are-- nearly all of the students have family links to the Waimea cowboy heritage. Many of them help run ranches still.

The show started with hula performances from little Kanu kids in neckerchiefs, and then segued into the Real Deal—a beautiful chant, accompanied by hula, about the origin and history of Waimea. I wish I had a photographic memory-- the story was so moving and important, and I was wrestling with my baby, so my memory is sketchy, but this is what I can recall:
There is a virgins’ heiau here in the puu (hills) above Waimea (and that is why it is called Red Water). A young goddess (Wao?) met the young god from Kahiki on this spot and they fell instantly in love. Later she came back to have her babies here. Her helpers would roll a stone down the mountain to see the spot where she would give birth, and her helpers were stones.Women and girls trained here to heal and be midwives at the heiau.

No wonder this is a wonderful place to give birth, in the kipuupuu rains.

Later I found this additional information about this story:

Haleino Heiau:
“The only heiau ever founded, dedicated and consecrated by a woman, the High
Chiefess Hoopiliahae, an ancestor of the Sovereigns of Hawaii and the ruling High
Chiefs of Waimea” (5) “noted for the red rain and vivid rainbow symbols of the
sacredness of this locality, was exclusively for girls of the age of purity who
performed the duties of dedicating and participating in the different ceremonies, in
which the spirit of love, purity of body and mind was imbued; also the science of
healing was taught, thus consecrating their lives for the betterment of others.”

Hōkū’ula, lit., red star (8), also, hill of the red planet (2)Residence of the akua (god) Makuakuamana, who came with Paao the High Priest from Kahiki, and his wife, High Chiefess (also, beautiful goddess) Wao.
From Waimea Place Names

About 30 women and girls from the community did some beautiful kahiko hula and chant about Waimea—my baby was entranced—I don’t think she blinked the whole time. I love Kahiko hula—I love the dissonant harmonies of the chanting, the strong brassy voices and the
beautiful movements—all those strong bodies in unison, and folded up in the
yards of cloth. Gorgeous. I love watching pur friend Pomai dance especially—she is
like a goddess herself—6 feet tall and all fierce power and grace.
The hula consecrated the evening-- the last line they chanted was, "Victorious are the children of Waimea!" and they shot their arms out in front of them like Ikua's leather lariate lassoo, and roped the audience's attention and power. That energy remained taut the whole night.

Dr. Billy Bergin took over the podium and talked about the history of Waimea, and the 52 Hawaiian families who were awarded the Hawaiian Homes parcels here 50 years ago. Parker Ranch gave up the best pasture, and even donated the labor and fenced each parcel off with the longlasting ohia posts. Those families make Waimea what it is-- braided together with common histories and intermarriage, their grandkids put the photos on the walls.

Dr. Bergin said, "A thousand years ago, Waimea was Hawaiian. It is Hawaiian today, and in a thousand years, it will still be Hawaiian." The crowd cheered for a long time.
After his talk, the musicians came up to the stage and played all of the Big Island songs, the Waimea songs, the Paniolo songs. It was perfect: the improvised paani (solos), the bright ukulele, the slack key guitar. The lead guitarist retuned partway through and summarized succinctly: "The mexicans come over playing their guitars, the Hawaiians sit there and playing with the keys, that's why it's slack key, yee-haw!"


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