The wahine pa’u riders began arriving to the workshop mid-afternoon on a sunny late summer day in Waimea. Mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and nieces. Generations of paniolo women, some who had participated in Old Hawaii on Horseback in years past and some completely new to the event. But none of them were new to the tradition of the Wahine Holo Lio, the women on horseback.

Viewing photos of past Old Hawaiʻi on Horseback events, sharing stories

They gathered to share their mana’o (knowledge), of the traditions rooted so deeply in the story of the Old Hawaii on Horseback. Today’s workshop was learning about the wrapping of the pa’u skirt.

Kukui nuts used for paʻu wrapping

Kukui nuts used for paʻu wrapping

When you first see a pa’u skirt on a woman riding a horse, the first thought may be “that’s quite pretty.” But there is more to it than just sitting on a horse. As Deedee Lindsey Bertelmann, a longtime Hawaii ranching family member showed the group, the time and effort into wrapping a pa’u skirt correctly, while tedious at times, is also a way of honoring tradition.

Wahine paʻu riders fully costumed

The wrap begins at the waist, with the cinching so tight the rider is asked to suck in her breath as much as she can in order for the strap to be tightened. It is this tension that will eventually be key in keeping the pa’u skirt firmly in place for hours at a time.

Paʻu wrapping session

The material is folded lengthwise, then folded in half, and half again.

Paʻu skirt wrapping

Beginning the paʻu wrapping process

A kukui nut is then placed underneath the crease and twisted in such a way to keep everything nice and tight.

Twisting the kukui nut in the fabric

The kukui nut is tucked underneath the waist in the center, and the process repeats itself on each side of the waist and once again in the center of her back.

Placement of the kukui nut in the paʻu wrapping

“This was the only way they knew how to protect their clothing while riding” shares Pat Bergin, Chair of the Old Hawaii on Horseback event. “It also enabled them to ride with dignity and modesty.”

You can see the magnificent pa’u skirts in person at the upcoming Old Hawaii on Horseback event, to be held Saturday, September 14, 2019. We hope to see you there!

Eventbrite - Old Hawaii on Horseback 2019