We joined the crowd at the 47th annual Makawao Paniolo Parade last weekend, that annual soapbox and tribute to Maui's paniolo tradition.
The politicians were out in regulation palaka, moving gamely through the intermittent rain, a relief from the usual heat.
Gladys Baisa in a shocking pink shirt and matching cowboy hat was ferried along on the back of a convertible. Don Couch, in a blue-and-white palaka shirt, "paddled" in an outrigger canoe. Elle Cochran, decked out cowboy style wearing purple lei she made herself, cut a nice figure on a horse, the only County Council member to do so.
Mayor Alan Arakawa, in a sea of yellow T-shirted supporters; Mike White in a red, white and blue cowboy shirt; and Mike Victorino in green gamely walked the route. It's good to get a look now and then at these folks. U.S. Senate candidates Linda Lingle and Ed Case were there, too.
Among the council contenders this election, Don Guzman in orange did a jig in the street, "Oh I gotta dance for votes." A woman from Alan Fukuyama's campaign detached herself from the parade and peered at us. "Visitors or voters?" she inquired. Informed we were the latter, she comically put her thumbs inside her white T-shirt to make us focus on its message.
Was that really Molokai's bad boy and Kaho'olawe hero, Walter Ritte, on a dark horse? Is he running for something?
I liked the protest floats, including that of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, which was trying to raise consciousness about the danger of fire ants. It took a while to figure out what the high school kids looking like red Klansmen organized around a red-draped car were supposed to signify. "We're the legs," one of the hooded figures explained.
Moms Against Monsanto ("Just say no, GMO") drew big applause from where we stood and were followed by the Occupy Maui folks, carrying a tent.
The riders equalled the political groups in numbers, and what made me the most optimistic were the young men and women on horseback: Aloha Cowboys, No Ka 'Oi Horsemanship, and Maui Pa'uRiders in their multicolored skirts, who took the time to make lei haku for their horses and hats.
Other riders were cute little paniolo princesses in spangled jackets and Grand Marshall Otto "Uncle Joe" Thompson of Kona. He's one of the many descendants of Charlie Thompson, who founded the 1,400 acre Thompson Ranch here in 1902 (which, I discovered, moved seven years ago to Polipoli from Thompson Road, where what they raise now is estates).
"The paniolo tradition is still alive," said the dedicated Theresa Thompson, who organizes the parade year after year. "It's near and dear to my heart. I'm trying to instill in people old ways of thinking. They really need to appreciate the values of these elders, their roots."
And what are those? "Hard work, honesty, being strong and kind, and generous. In the old days you made your own things, you trained your own horse, you went out and did your job."
Luckily, she said, there's a trend in this direction. Young riders are learning to make their own saddles. Clinics offered by the Maui Cattlemen's Association are teaching the old style of training with kindness. "Now it's quietly whistle to your cows, don't get them all upset."
This style hasn't caught on yet with the young roughnecks up at the 57th annual Makawao Rodeo, however, which is where the real action was over the weekend. I prowled around the grounds before Friday night's bull bash and keiki competition, taking it all in.
Boys were practicing roping wire bulls, girls bustling by in boots and well-worn jeans. A mother in a sparkling silver belt led a tiny boy dressed in western garb through a gate, his competition number visible on his back. Dogs panted from the backs of trucks and the air was full of whinnying and laughter.
Some ecstatic Hawaiian music emanated from behind a couple of trucks and I crept up to see what was going on. It was not a CD as I thought, but a cowboy playing ukulele and singing falsetto. He spotted me and sang louder. So much excitement. I felt I'd gotten a glimpse into a different world, one where local families still have their land, their horses, their corrals, and the tradition is being passed on. We may not see them, Thompson said, but Maui still has lots of "barns."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.