We probably saw an announcement in the Hilo newspaper that the annual Naalehu Rodeo was coming up on the 4th of July. Sounded like a fun bit of Hawaii’s unique culture, so we looked it up.
Naalehu residents can brag that they live in the southern most town in the United States, so we had to drive on the Belt Highway up to and past the town of Volcano and the Volcano National Park, and down to the very small town of Naalehu. Naalehu – means “volcano ashes”.
The rodeo was for amateur, therefore local cowboys (paniolo) and cowgirls. The ranches on the southern end of the island are mostly small, but Parker Ranch, on the north side of the volcano, was the largest private owned cattle ranch in the U.S. – boasting 250,000 acres. Nearby is Ponoholo Ranch at 11,000 acres.
The paniolo wore flower leis in their cowboy hats, and competed in traditional rodeo events such as calf roping,
bulldogging, and bull riding.
One unique event that caught my attention was the poo-wia-u. A post was secured in the center of the arena, and a calf released. The rider had to rope the calf, and jump off his horse to wrestle it down and tie it’s legs. Then he ran and tied the other end of his lariat to the post.
I wrote a song after the event.
PANIOLO (Sing to the tune of, I’m An Ol’ Cowhand from the Rio Grand)
I’m an old cowhand, from the Big Is-land.
And I ride the range, where the lava ran.
Paniolo guy ‘neath the coconut tree
Where the ornery steers are afraid of me,
‘Cuz of the poo-wia-u I do, oo
Dakine poo-wai-u I do.
Paniolo = Cowboy
Poo-wai-u = Calf roping event, and name of the post used.
Dakine = Contraction of “That kind”, or English “Wha-cha-call-it”
There are several more verses. If anyone wants to see more, let me know.