COURTESY OF SARAH ANDERSON
Rodeo demonstrations are just one of many attractions of Honokaa Western Week, which draws visitors to "the biggest little town" on the Hamakua coast.
Western Week wakes up Honokaa
At the age of 9, Evelyn Andrade could shoot cattle square in the forehead, then bleed and skin them in preparation for market.
"I had three brothers and three sisters, and we all worked hard on the 900-acre ranch and slaughterhouse that my father bought in 1906," she said. "Our ranch was three miles from Honokaa, and in addition to cattle, we raised hogs, coffee and corn.
"I learned to ride when I was 5. Nobody gave me lessons; back then, you just got on the horse and did it."
Andrade also remembers riding in the horse-drawn wagon that delivered fresh Andrade Ranch beef to the camps where Hamakua Sugar Co.'s workers lived. The plantation was the backbone of Honokaa's economy for more than a century, from its establishment in 1873 to its closure in 1994.
Andrade, 82, has many fond memories of growing up in this rural area of the Big Island. It's a lifestyle she enjoys sharing as one of the honchos of Honokaa's Western Week, which her family helped launch in 1954.
The entire community comes together to put on this lively paniolo, or cowboy-themed, festival; over the years, Andrade has done everything from organizing the Saloon Girl Contest to selling commemorative buttons to lining up parade grand marshals. In a few weeks she will serve as the festival's grand marshal, a long-overdue and well-deserved honor.
"Western Week introduces visitors to a usually laid-back country town," said event coordinator Alice Moon. "Western Week showcases Honokaa as an interesting, beautiful, culturally rich and historically significant place."
HONOKAA, THE biggest little town on the verdant Hamakua Coast, is best known as the gateway to Waipio Valley, where Kamehameha I is said to have spent his early years.
Nostalgia abounds during Western Week as residents recall the days when life here revolved around ranching and sugar. The Olde Time Paniolo Market Day will feature Western-themed store window displays, products and food. For the Discover Downtown Honokaa Treasure Hunt, shoppers will visit participating businesses where they'll collect stamps to put on a map of the town.
"They can collect the stamps over the course of the week," Moon said. "The names of those who get the required stamps will be put in a barrel, and a drawing will be held at the block party for great prizes, including gift certificates, artwork and jewelry."
Another big draw at the block party will be the Saloon Girl Contest, during which contestants will dress up as saloon girls and serve cowboys drinks in an entertaining routine that includes a country-western music performance.
"They're judged on their enthusiasm, costume and talent," said Moon. "As you might guess, this is more of an 'adult' activity."
Meanwhile, JJ Meat Market's barbecue promises plenty of hearty fare. Dinner plates will be filled with sizzling rib-eye steak, baked beans, corn and rice. There also will be shoyu chicken, hamburgers and delicious desserts for sale, including homemade cream puffs, guava cheesecake and haupia chocolate pie.
"Last year, a couple from Oregon said they've been coming to Western Week for four years just for the steak at the barbecue," said Moon.
Greenhorns will marvel at the horsemanship of 400 cowboys and cowgirls from throughout Hawaii, California, Texas, Washington and Oregon who will compete in calf roping, bull riding, barrel racing, steer un-decorating and a dozen other popular rodeo events. There's even a sheep riding division for kids 6 and under.
"Western Week spotlights Hawaii's version of the cowboy in one of the most scenic areas of the state," said Moon.
"With its storefronts and covered wooden sidewalks dating back a century, Honokaa is one of the few places that preserves the look and feel of old Hawaii. During Western Week it's jammed with people and bustles with activities. The rest of the year, it's just a quaint, quiet, 'hang loose' kind of town."
Honokaa, Big Island
Dates: May 19-28
Call: (808) 933-9772
Note: Western Week commemorative buttons cost $3 and provide discounts for some events. The buttons are available at T. Kaneshiro Store, Taro Patch Gifts, JJ's Meat Market and Hog Wild Feed & Supply.
May 19 10 a.m. -- Paniolo Parade
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- Olde Time Paniolo Market Day with arts, crafts and food for sale, "talk story" sessions with longtime paniolo, and demonstrations of rawhide rope making and saddle making. At Honokaa People's Theater.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- "Hog Wild Shindig" includes a picnic, petting zoo, food booths, live music and a Keiki Western Wear contest. At Hog Wild Feed & Supply.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- Keiki Korral with music, food, games and a silent auction. At Ka Hale O Na Keiki Preschool. Make a donation to the school to be entered in a drawing to win two round-trip tickets between Honolulu and Alaska.
7 to 10 p.m. -- Rock 'n' Roll Dance Party at Hotel Honokaa Club. Cost is $12 at the door, $10 with a button.
May 20 to 22
Discover Downtown Honokaa Treasure Hunt
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. -- "Creative Quilts" exhibition and sale of locally made Hawaiian and patchwork quilts in the North Hawaii Education & Research Center. Discount on purchases with a Western Week button. A portion of the quilt sales will go to NHERC.
7 to 10 p.m. -- Honokaa High School Talent Show, featuring a concert of country-western, rock, rap, pop, Hawaiian, Jawaiian and jazz. At Honokaa People's Theater. Cost is $5 at the door, $4 with a button.
5 to 11 p.m. -- Western Week block party with JJ's Meat Market Barbecue, Saloon Girl Contest, Girls Gone Hog Wild fashion show, live auction, music and dancing.
Noon to dark -- Hawaii Saddle Club Slack Rope Elimination at Honokaa Arena; $7 per person, free for 12 and younger.
May 27 to 28
Noon to dark -- Hawaii Saddle Club Memorial Day Rodeo at Honokaa Arena; $7 per person, free for ages 12 and younger.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.