From the North Hawaii News….
Making paniolo connections
To really know a place, it’s necessary to understand something about its culture and history.
During the months of October and November at Kahilu Theatre, the Paniolo Preservation Society will present a three-part historic paniolo exhibit. According to Dr. Billy Bergin, a Waimea veterinarian and author, the display came about “from the generosity of Tim Bostock.”
“(Bostock) realized there was going to be a vacuum of displays at Kahilu Theatre, so about six months ago he asked the Paniolo Preservation Society if they would be interested in putting some things there,” Dr. Bergin said.
The exhibit will include the entire Paniolo Hall of Fame, select saddles of iconic Hawaiian paniolo and a stunning display of traditional Hawaiian saddle making.
The west wing of the lobby will house the Paniolo Hall of Fame, which was initiated in 1999 by the Oahu Cattlemen’s Association, and includes photos, bios and oral histories of 128 paniolo statewide who have contributed to keeping paniolo heritage and culture alive.
Also in the west wing will be an exhibit of the working saddles of select iconic Hawaii paniolo and includes: George Vierra of Waimea, John Holi Ma`e, Yutaka Kimura, John and Sam Purdy, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske and Kapua Wall. These men and women, while not necessarily represented in the Paniolo Hall of Fame, were top riders and their working saddles are testament to many long days spent doing the work they loved.
The east wing will house an exhibit of the dozen or more steps involved in traditional Hawaiian saddle making from raw wood to a completed Hawaiian tree saddle, provided by Alvin Kawamoto of Kohala, educator and fourth generation paniolo and saddle maker.
“It takes about 200 hours to finish a saddle and they go for an average of $2,000,” said Bergin.
The Hawaiian tree saddle evolved alongside ranching in Hawaii with the arrival of the first Mexican cowboys in the 1830s, brought to Hawaii Island to teach the roping and riding skills needed to become proficient cowboys or paniolo.
Like so many other things that found their way here, the Hawaiians learned and made it their own and were soon making saddles that reflected the unique island environment, their voyaging ancestry and cultural artistry. As with the canoe, the tree saddle begins in the forest where the saddle maker looks for the right tree. In the case of the saddle it’s a forked branch of the neneleau, which is then inverted to form the horn and front fork parts of the saddle tree. The Hawaiians also used rawhide rather than leather for its durability in wet conditions and lower cost.
The structure of the Hawaiian tree saddle differs from the Mexican saddle as it has a raised seat for stability over rough terrain, and a rigging system called the aweawe (octopus arms) that holds the saddle in place, makes it adjustable to better fit the contours of the horse’s back and makes the saddle about 10 pounds lighter. The aweawe are made from a piece of rawhide, attached to the horn, which is cut into strips that are tightly woven to form four lines on each side. When completed, the aweawe flowing from the horn look like rigging lines on a canoe mast.
The final touch is the craftsman’s own signature design. According to Bergin the work is, “reminiscent of repeating geometric tapa patterns.”
“Early saddle makers carved their designs in large horse molars that were then used to stamp the border design on the saddle,” Bergin said.
Another art form that arrived with the vaqueros was the guitar, which the Hawaiians made their own as well, creating their own style of music that became known as slack key, where strings are loosened to create unique and harmonic open tunings. This has inspired generations of paniolo musicians and poets that could only be heard on the cattle drive or after a hard week’s work on the cattle station. But PPS is hoping to entice some of these talented paniolo to share their gifts during the months of the exhibit. But Bergin is hoping to entice some of these talented paniolo to share their gifts during the months of the exhibit.
“Tentatively, hopefully during that period will be an evening of paniolo country music,” Bergin said. “There’s so many very, very good musicians that tend to be carport, lanai, backcountry sort of people and if we can get them out, it’s going to be a great achievement because it’s some of the finest music.”
The exhibit is free and open during theater business hours and all performances. For more information, contact Dr. Billy Bergin at 936-6220 or go to www.PanioloPreservation.org.