Experiencing Aloha at the Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau Cultural Festival

Experiencing Aloha at the Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau Cultural Festival

The spirit of aloha embodies kindness, welcoming, and generosity.

Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau is a Natural Historic Park on the Big Island, located a couple hours from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO NP). It was a place of refuge in the past for those who had broken a law in old Hawai‘i, where they could escape from death and be saved. I went to its recent cultural festival with Jody, my supervisor, and had a great experience. Walking into the park, we saw rows of hale huts and different crafts activities located in each. Hale huts are a traditional Hawaiian building made entirely from thatched grass and fronds They can be used for many purposes, including use as sleeping and living quarters for families, use for special ceremonies, and even changing rooms for hula dancers. In this case, they were used to host different Hawaiian cultural activities.

As we explored hale after hale, we were able to talk with the staff, who were also dressed in traditional Hawaiian wear. In one, we made anklets!

Jody and I were able to sample wana (sea urchin) and sugarcane. I enjoyed chewing on the starchy sugarcane and tasting the sweet juice, but wasn’t a huge fan of the wana because it had a runny texture. Full disclaimer though, everyone has their different tastes and in a future context I would definitely try wana again. Despite my dislike for the wana, I was amazed by the experience. They were prepared right in front of us – fresh wana from the ocean and a man aggressively chopping sugarcane.

The grand finale of the festival was a demonstration of ___, which is a traditional practice that Hawaiians used to catch fish for the village. A giant rope of woven ___ is slowly brought out to the ocean, forming a barrier on the top of the water. Swimmers hold sections of the rope and tread water, and as a group, the swimmers cut off the cove with the rope and slowly begin to swim towards the shore. From my understanding, the fish see the rope floating on the surface and panic, thinking they cannot escape.

As the swimmers gradually come closer to the shore, the fish believe they have nowhere to go and swim with their schools in tighter and tighter circles. When watching the ceremony, I could see at least a hundred or so fish enclosed. When the circle is tight enough, people on the land cast circular fishing nets that catch the fish. Because this was just a demonstration, the nets were not cast and the fish were not caught. It was an enlightening experience and really showcased the brilliant ideas of Hawaiians in the past.

We saw many other fun activities during the festival, such as tug-o-war with traditional woven rope, net casting, dancing, and more. Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau, I’ll be back!

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