Inaugural paniolo festival pays tribute to Hawaii’s rich cowboy tradition
Jimmy Duvauchelle is a man most comfortable in the company of nature. He can count the days he's spent out of the sun on one hand, and he's got the deep tan and weathered complexion to prove it.
Paniolo Heritage Rodeo and Festival
When: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Oct. 13, 3 p.m. Oct. 14
Place: Molokai Ranch, Maunaloa, Molokai
Admission: Free (awards banquet at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 is $15)
Parking: $3. Free shuttle service will be provided for guests of the Lodge & Beach Village at Molokai Ranch.
Information: Call 808-552-2900, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.molokairanch.com.
Accommodations: Available at Beach Village starting at $288, double occupancy, per night ($148 per night kamaaina). Call 888-627-8082.
Over the years, he's learned patience and humility from dealing with droughts, windstorms and ornery critters. A lot of his job requires hard manual labor, but he's not so concerned about machismo that he doesn't appreciate a flower in full bloom or a rainbow arcing across the sky.
You get the feeling this strong, tough man who has spent more than half a century riding horses, going on roundups, and roping and branding cattle has a gentle, tender side, too.
Affectionately known as "Uncle Jimmy," the 62-year-old is a fourth-generation paniolo (cowboy) who has worked for 40 years at 65,000-acre Molokai Ranch, Hawaii's second-largest working ranch.
The ranch's livestock manager and a Hawaii Paniolo Hall of Fame inductee, Duvauchelle started riding and working with cattle when he was 9 years old. "I loved the challenges and could not wait to grow up and become a full-time paniolo," he says.
His two daughters and two of his grandsons work shoulder to shoulder with him, caring for Molokai Ranch's cattle and horses and running its equestrian activities for visitors.
"We represent six generations of paniolo at Molokai Ranch," Duvauchelle says with no small measure of pride.
COURTESY OF MOLOKAI RANCH
The Paniolo Heritage Rodeo and Festival will have areas where youngsters can try out their cowboy skills.
For him the call of nature is irresistible. "Working with animals in the wilderness does wonders for the body and soul," he says. "Hearing cows mooing and birds singing makes me feel like I'm in a whole different world. You never get tired of the scenery, and even if you're doing the same type of work, days on the ranch are never boring."
Greenhorns can get a glimpse of cowboy life at Molokai Ranch's Paniolo Heritage Rodeo and Festival, Oct. 13 and 14. The best cowpokes from Molokai, Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island will compete for trophy buckles, saddles and cash prizes in events such as bull riding, roping, double mugging and barrel racing.
Participating in rodeos was a big part of Duvauchelle's life growing up on Molokai. As the years passed, however, he saw interest in the old cowboy ways wane even on this largely rural island.
"Reviving those traditions through the Paniolo Heritage Rodeo and Festival is a good way to keep them alive for future generations," Duvauchelle says.
"The purpose of the events is not only to have fun, but to share the paniolo's story, which hasn't been given the attention it deserves."
Molokai Ranch has sponsored rodeos for more than a decade, but this year marks the inaugural of the festival, which was inspired by Duvauchelle's desire to promote, preserve and educate the public about paniolo culture.
"Uncle Jimmy has always been active in Hawaii's paniolo movement, and he's one of the few people who have practiced the old cowboy traditions," says Zhantell Dudoit, event coordinator for 2da Top Productions, which is helping implement the rodeo and festival. "The events pay tribute to a part of Hawaii's culture and history that has so often been overlooked and not given its true place of importance."
COURTESY OF MOLOKAI RANCH
A free rodeo at Molokai Ranch will display the skills and traditions of the paniolo from across the state.
Festival highlights include displays of paniolo artifacts and memorabilia such as handmade saddles, ropes and old photographs. These are among the first items to be donated to the new Molokai Paniolo Cultural Centre (see sidebar). "The rodeo and festival are important tools to create awareness and excitement about the center," says Dudoit.
Attendees also can chow down on beef stew, fried fish, chili and rice, and other favorites; peruse woodcarvings, jewelry, floral hatbands and other locally made wares; and enjoy live entertainment headlined by Melveen Leed and Brother Noland.
"The Paniolo Heritage Festival is a community-based event with so many positive results," Dudoit says. "It attracts visitors, boosts the local economy, encourages healthy competition and family togetherness, raises awareness of the paniolo culture and creates a venue for cultural preservation and education of visitors and kamaaina alike."
She notes that in 1993, Hano Naehu and John Kaiama, two youths from Molokai, set a world record for team roping at the National High School Rodeo in Gillett, Wyo.
"The best of the best of high school ropers competed, and Hano and John were the winners," Dudoit says. "In fact, they still hold the world record for team roping. The festival gives us an opportunity to share wonderful little-known stories like that and promote pride in our paniolo heritage."
Molokai center preserves the paniolo way of life
The aim of the Molokai Paniolo Cultural Centre will be to preserve and promote paniolo traditions, educating visitors about this special way of life.
"It will serve as a classroom for paniolo music; knot-tying; raising livestock; horse training; rope, saddle and leather tack making; the gathering and practice of herbal medicine; and being good tenants of the land -- all the things that make the Hawaiian cowboy a special person," says Zhantell Dudoit, of 2da Top Productions, a Molokai-based special-events company.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the center will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 14, with completion slated for mid-2009. The $400,000 facility will be located next to Molokai Ranch's rodeo arena.
Although items for the displays are being donated from throughout the state, most are coming from Molokai ranchers, as the Molokai paniolo will be the center's focus. Spearheaded by the Molokai Paniolo Cultural Centre Association, a nonprofit, community-based organization, the museum will exhibit old photos, spurs, ropes, chaps, branding irons and saddles that fourth-generation paniolo Jimmy Duvauchelle used more than 40 years ago.
"The Paniolo Cultural Centre has been a dream of Uncle Jimmy's for a long time," Dudoit says. "The paniolo culture used to be held in high regard, but it has been put aside in recent times. He wants to return it to its rightful place in the history of Hawaii."
Molokai Ranch donated land for the center and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs provided a grant of $100,000. Fundraising remains a priority. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to P.O. Box 69, Maunaloa, HI 96770. Make checks out to the Molokai Paniolo Cultural Centre.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.