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Traditions Come Alive at Cultural Festival

August 10, 2012

The annual Ho’oku’ikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival at Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is one of the most unique events held anywhere in Hawaii. (Photo used by permission, Kai Markell)

Well it’s that time of year again…and we are totally excited!

On August 11-12, Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island of Hawaii will be hosting it’s 40th Annual Ho’oku’ikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival. This two day festival is one of the most unique events held anywhere in Hawaii.

Participants offering a gift during the ancient Ho’okupu Ceremony. (Photo used by permission, Kai Markell

The festival begins early Saturday morning with elaborate cultural ceremonies, including the ancient Ho’okupu (Gift-Giving) Ceremony. In years past, this ceremony has included participants from across the Hawaiian Islands, Tahiti, Samoa, and even as far away as Aotearoa (New Zealand). The participants present gifts in the form of important cultural items, as well as offering songs and chants.

The festival’s warrior exhibitions are arguably the most popular and exhilaration of events Saturday morning! (Photo used by permission, Kai Markell

Later in the morning on Saturday the mood of the festival quickly changes as warriors enter the field below the heiau (temple). Visitors and local residents alike stand in awe as various warrior exhibitions take place right in front of them. These warrior exhibitions include the always exciting “battle”, where teams of warriors hurl spears at each other to see who will be the “last man standing.” It is truly an unique cultural event!

A young visitor watches intently at one of the many activities held at the Royal Courtyard. (NPS Photo)

Meanwhile, at 10:00am on both Saturday and Sunday, the beach just below springs to life with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of ancient Hawaii. Pelekane Beach, the Royal Courtyard of Kamehameha the Great, is transformed from its normally sleepy self into a bustling place of hands-on, multi-sensory cultural experiences for all to enjoy. Various cultural demonstrators guide visitors and local residents alike in the making of various traditional crafts, all of which they can take home with them! These crafts can include lei making, lauhala weaving, gourd drum making, nose flutes, and many other crafts.

A visitor helps paddle a double-hulled canoe at the festival. (NPS Photo)

Canoe rides launch from the beach, taking visitors out into the ocean where they learn the basics of traditional sailing and the significance of canoes in Hawaiian culture. Back on shore, music greets the returning “voyagers” as they head over to the food tasting booth, where they can sample “real Hawaiian food” (raw fish, crabs and limpets, coconut, sugar cane, poi, breadfruit, sweet potato, etc).

You never know what you’ll see at the festival! Park Ranger Charles Hua sporting his always stylish rain cape. (NPS Photo)

Kids of ALL ages enjoy trying their hand at spear tossing, ulu maika, moa pahe’e, and other traditional Hawaiian games. Sound like too much activity for you? You can also get a free lomi lomi massage to relieve the tension from such a busy weekend!

Volunteers and staff from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA) play “Whale of Fortune” with young visitors! (NPS Photo)

In addition to the cultural activities, scientists and volunteers with the National Park Service’s Pacific Island Network Inventory and Monitoring Program offer fun activities to learn about the park’s “wild side.” You can also take your chances playing “Whale of Fortune” with the always excitable staff and volunteers from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA) and learn about Hawaii’s endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. This year, we are also fortunate to have folks representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who will be sharing about the important work their are conducting in our area (we also hear they’re going to be giving out something really cool for visitors to take home!).

This year the festival is honoring Mabel Tolentino (in purple), who passed away several weeks ago. Over the previous decades, Aunty Mabel was an unfailing presence at the festival and helped establish the park 40 years ago this month. Her daughter Nani and grandson Shawn will be continuing her legacy at this year’s festival, conducting the gourd drum making workshop and preparing food for the food tasting booth. (NPS Photo)

Needless to say, fun is had by all during the festival!

Although all are invited to this free event, each year park Superintendent Daniel Kawaiaea makes one stipulation for those attending: “that each visitor learns at least one craft before leaving…to help preserve part of the Hawaiian Culture.”  For the complete schedule and information for this event, please visit

Yum! Try authentic Hawaiian food! (NPS Photo)

The staff and hundreds of volunteers that make this event possible look forward to seeing you at this year’s event!

Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site was established on August 17, 1972 “in order to restore and preserve in public ownership the historically significant temple associated with Kamehameha the Great, who founded the historic Kingdom of Hawaii, and the property of John Young who fought for Kamehameha the Great during the period of his ascendancy to power” (Public Law 92-388). Experience YOUR America at Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and the other nearly 400 National Park units across the United States!

Pu`ukohola Heiau, the temple of Kamehameha the Great. (Used by permission, Pierre Lesage)

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