Hawi awakens for Kohala’s fair
Sleepy Hawi wakes up once a year, in early October (usually the second Saturday) when the Kohala Country Fair draws crowds from all over the Big Island.
If you go ...
What: Kohala Country Fair
Where: Held at the corner of Kohala Mountain Road (Route 250) and Akoni Pule Highway, under the banyan trees, Hawi, North Kohala
When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday
The event is held in the shade of the town's 66-year-old banyans, which were planted on the site of a park and theater where neighborhood kids played baseball and watched cowboy movies every Saturday.
The park and theater are gone, but the magnificent banyans remain Hawi landmarks. When asked for directions, locals usually will use them as a point of reference: "Turn right by the banyans," or "Go down a block from the banyans," or "Our shop is right across from the banyans."
Normally, there's no traffic in Hawi, but on fair day you actually have to hunt for parking.
"It's one of the town's busiest days of the year," says the event's chairwoman, Karen Rosen. "Some people come to do their Christmas shopping; vendors will be selling jewelry, hand-blended massage oils, quilts, ceramics, plants, T-shirts and all kinds of other merchandise.
"Others come to bid on the wonderful items at the silent auction, and there are those who like to listen to the music and sample all the ono food. And, of course, there are the contests, exhibits and children's activities. There's something going on all the time, and many people wind up spending the whole day with us in Hawi."
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the fair, which is a fund-raiser for the North Kohala Community Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that sponsors 38 volunteer community improvement projects ranging from recycling and after-school sports activities to wildlife management programs and a coalition against drug abuse.
"The fair offers great fun for a great cause," notes Rosen, whose husband, Bob Martin, serves as NKCRC president. "It's great to see everyone enjoy themselves and to know that they're not only having fun, they're helping to make North Kohala a better place to live."
KOHALA COUNTRY FAIR
Spam transformed into "Pigloo" -- an igloo and dogsled creation, won a blue ribbon for Katy Anderson. Spam carving is one of many competitions for adults and children visiting the Kohala Country Fair.
FOR THE PAST six years, one of the fair's highlights has been the lua-decorating contest. Individuals, businesses and community groups brainstorm and transform a lowly john into an imaginative work of art in the hopes of snaring top honors.
The Friends of the Bond Memorial Library won twice for their elaborate book-inspired efforts, "Harry Potty" and "Flushing Nemo." Our winners include "Rocket Ship" by Ackerman Galleries, "A Honey Moon Shack" by Hawaii Home Properties and "A Fixer-Upper" by Kohala Pacific Realty.
Last year, Char's Salon turned a toilet into a "Beauty Shop with a Throne." Says Rosen, "The winner receives a $500 cash prize that usually winds up being donated to one of NKCRC's projects."
There are plenty of other diversions to capture fair-goers' attention. Cheer your favorite contestants in the Spam-carving, Popsicle stick art, bubble gum-blowing and pie-eating contests. Bid on hotel stays, rounds of golf, activities, meals and more at the silent auction.
Peruse an array of fine handcrafted wares, including original silk paintings, koa bowls and lau hala hats. Clap your hands, tap your toes, even get up and dance to the nonstop live entertainment, ranging from hula to African dance to kachi-kachi music.
Performers include the rock duo Redd, slack-key artist John Keawe, ukulele and guitar virtuoso David Gomes and Matthew Kupukaa, who placed first in the song and storytelling categories of last year's Aloha Festivals Clyde (Kindy) Sproat Falsetto Contest.
KOHALA COUNTRY FAIR
Maggie Frohmader sold handmade dolls at the fair, where more than 80 booths offer everything from onolicious poi balls to hand-painted silk garments.
FOOD IS ALWAYS a big part of the fair, and this year's event will bring back perennial favorites that reflect North Kohala's multiethnic community: Hawaiian plate lunches, Korean chicken, Thai food, Portuguese bean soup and malasadas, Japanese musubi (rice balls) and mochiko chicken, Chinese pretzels and all-American barbecue ribs and chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, ice cream, cotton candy and root beer floats. Other top sellers are salmon and halibut tacos, pork sandwiches and shave ice.
"You definitely won't leave hungry," says Rosen. "Most of the food booths are run by school and community groups. For many of them, this is their biggest fund-raiser of the year."
In addition, there will be judged exhibits of cookies, cakes and pies (all incorporating coffee); jams and jellies; woodworking; sewing; short films; and poetry, photography and art in middle school, high school and adult categories that proclaim, "This is Kohala."
There also will be nonjudged exhibits of children's photography; children's self-portraits revolving around the theme "We are the future of Kohala"; photos, documents and publications depicting historic North Kohala; ancient Hawaiian crafts such as weaving, hula implements and leis; and electric cars made by district students.
KOHALA COUNTRY FAIR
Turning an ordinary lua into a Harry Potty won $500 for the Friends of the Bond Memorial Library In Kapaau.
Unique among the kids' offerings will be the Hiccup Circus, an award-winning nonprofit group that enhances keiki's personal growth, self-esteem and development through circus entertainment.
"These talented performers from Pahoa have made successful presentations at Big Island schools for many years," says Rosen. "They've also taken their program to Maui, Kauai, Oahu and California. It's amazing to see how learning juggling, unicycling, stilt-walking and other skills can help increase youngsters' self-esteem as well as bring a smile to their face."
Also sure to delight the keiki are games; face painting; a climbing wall; a bouncing castle; pony, train and miniature horse-drawn cart rides; a dunking booth (Big Island school principals and teachers have bravely volunteered to be among the targets); and Matchbox car races.
About 100 volunteers run and organize the fair. "North Kohala is a very diverse community, but everyone comes together for this event," says Rosen. "They work individually and in small groups for many months, and all of a sudden on the day of the fair, everything seems to gel. The fair really is an inspiring example of a community working shoulder to shoulder for a common cause."
The best example of this unity, Rosen notes, is at the end of the event, after the last band has performed. "Longtime residents as well as newcomers and visitors form a huge circle, hold hands and sing 'Hawaii Aloha' as the sun sets. Sometimes there's a gorgeous rainbow overhead. It's one of those awesome chicken-skin moments, and when you look around you see misty eyes and big smiles on everyone's faces. You really feel the aloha."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.