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Left: KS Cultural Specialist Kēhau Peʻa riding as Pāʻū Princess for Kauaʻi in the 2018 King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade. Photo courtesy of Kēhau Peʻa. Right: Kēhau riding as the 2015 Pāʻū Princess for Niʻihau on her favorite horse, “Jessie Girl,” and executing a kāholo to honor Kamehameha in front of his statue. Photo courtesy of Kēhau Peʻa, by Kai Markell.

Pe‘a is pāʻū queen of King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade

June 6, 2022

Many members of the Kamehameha ʻohana are involved with King Kamehameha Day celebrations and keep the tradition of pāʻū riding alive; from King Kamehameha Celebration commissioners to members of parade pāʻū units. This year marks the 150th anniversary celebrating King Kamehameha Day, and also the 105th year of the King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade. This year’s parade theme is “E ola ka inoa ʻo Kamehameha,” Long live the name of Kamehameha. In this Kūkahekahe, KS Cultural Specialist Kēhau Peʻa chats with Cultural Specialist Kilinahe Coleman about the honor of riding in this year’s parade as its pāʻū queen.

Kili: Is this the first Kamehameha Day Parade held since the start of the pandemic?
Kēhau: Yes, the last parade was held in 2019. I serve on the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission as a representative of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. It’s one of around fifteen Hawaiian organizations, who help coordinate and support events celebrating Kamehameha from Hawaiʻi to Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. There was a push to hold the parade this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the King Kamehameha Day holiday.

Kili: What have preparations been like this year?
Kēhau: It’s been much harder to prepare for the parade this year. There is actually a shortage of horses because many owners either sold their horses or don’t feel comfortable renting their horses for the parade. The queen and her princesses are responsible for organizing and coordinating everything for their team of riders, including regalia, flowers, storage of flowers and more. There are personal financial and time costs involved. It’s not cheap to look beautiful on a horse! Preparations begin about five months before the parade, so usually riders will begin meeting monthly in February. They meet to plan for parade week and parade day, as well as start to practice riding on their horse. By April and May, horse-riding practices increase. This year, there are less riders because there were not enough horses.

Kili: How many riders will there be?
Kēhau: Usually, there are seven riders in each island’s pāʻū princess unit for the parade. There is a male page who carries the unit’s banner. The princess follows; a princess is the only member of the unit who can weave her horse on the road.  Following her, there are three female attendants, whose role is to kākoʻo the princess and ride straight forward and parallel with each other. Behind them are two male outriders or escorts who ride side-by-side. This year is different, and the princess units consist of four people instead of seven: a page, a princess, an attendant, and an escort. The queen can have eight or more riders. I’m honored to have a Kamehameha Hawaiʻi Kumu ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, J. Noʻeau Kakahalau-Kalima, in our queen’s unit this year. Although it was a challenge, we will have each of the eight Hawaiian Islands represented for this historic year!  And then finally there are the sanitation engineers, the sangineers or pooper scoopers! Without them, we can’t be in the parade!

Kili: What is it like the day of the parade?
Kēhau: The actual day of the parade is the culmination of all those months of preparation. The four-mile parade route takes about one hour to ride and starts at 9:00 am, but this year, my attendants and I are scheduled to get our hair and makeup done at 2:00 a.m.! We’ll arrive around 6:00 am at the ‘Iolani Palace grounds to be wrapped in our pāʻū, which is twelve yards of material. It’s tradition that the queen is wrapped first, followed by her riders, and then the princesses and their riders. The men and kākoʻo set up early on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace at about 6:00 a.m. A unit’s start time depends on where they are placed in the parade lineup. Once on the parade route, every pāʻū unit and parade participant acknowledges King Kamehameha at his statue. Eō Kamehameha ʻEkahi!

Kili: It’s amazing that you will be pāʻū queen this year! How did you get involved in pāʻū?
Kēhau: In December 2004, a fellow church member offered me horse-riding lessons at her ranch in Waimānalo, where I was living at the time. In March 2005, a pāʻū princess asked my kumu if she knew anyone who wanted to ride in their unit because one of her members dropped out, and kumu asked me if I was interested. I didn’t even know what pāʻū was! But I agreed and was on cloud nine, even though I had just a few months of experience on a horse. I became an attendant for Lānaʻi that year. This upcoming parade will be my twenty-second ride as a member of a pāʻū unit and my eleventh ride in the parade!

Kili: What is it like to ride a horse in the parade?
Kēhau: Pāʻū involves a lot of practice! Horses are like people, with different personalities and practicing and forming a relationship with them is key. In 2015, I rode for the island of Niʻihau as princess in the parade on my favorite horse, Jessie Girl. Together we did a side pass, or a kāholo, as we faced to acknowledge the king’s statue. The horse I’m riding this year is Johnny. He’s very spirited and he holds his head high, which I love. I’ve only ridden him twice so far and still have a couple more times to connect with him prior to parade day.  

Kili: I remember the pāʻū demonstration you gave in 2018 at one of our Christmas gatherings, it was so interesting to learn about how pāʻū riders dress themselves for riding!
Kēhau: There’s so much going on for the parade with the flowers, the lei and horses. There are separate categories of rules for each parade, for the queen and princesses. For example, a princess must have the island color predominantly displayed in her unit. The commission provides parts of the regalia for the parade; this includes the kīpola (a v-neck poncho-like top) for the women and the material that makes up the pāʻū. The commission also provides bowties and sashes for the men, as well as the banner for the page. Pāʻū riders also make their own lei.  We are encouraged to ʻohiʻohi or gather materials for lei, but they must be hardy and you must be able to preserve them well until the parade day. However, it can be hard to pick certain flowers; in the King Kamehameha parade, Niʻihau’s color is blue. So it’s a mixture of picking and buying flowers. The princesses and their units usually do lei wili (wound lei). Sometimes they will do lei humupapa (sewn lei).  This year, my unit is planning to do lei humupapa and we are using white crown flowers, mums, carnations, and orchids.

Kili: And pāʻū isn’t just about the glamour…
Kēhau: Right! It is about carrying on a tradition that is unique to Hawaiʻi. It’s about the history and connecting to our ʻāina. Our kūpuna found an ingenious way to transform yards of fabric into pāʻū using kukui. During my first ride for pāʻū, I was approached and asked if I was from Lānaʻi, the island I represented. Although I’m from Hilo, Hawaiʻi, it made me think how important it is for pāʻū riders to represent each island they ride for well, so that its people can feel pride. That experience inspired me to travel with my princess units to the islands we’ve represented and also to ground ourselves in learning about each place. My unit and I would ask permission to represent each island by offering hoʻokupu. During these trips, we also pick foliage and carry it back with us for the parade. Not only does this help us connect as a unit, but it also helps us connect to each place.

Kili: What is your favorite part about pāʻū?
Kēhau: ʻEmalani, or Queen Emma, is my inspiration. She was known for her horsemanship. I see pictures of pāʻū riders and am proud to be a part of that history. There’s usually only about 65 pāʻū riders chosen to represent in a single parade, so every opportunity is special to me. One of my goals for the future is to start a scholarship fund that will help offset some of the costs associated with riding pāʻū, which I hope will encourage more people to become involved in pāʻū to continue its legacy. I never thought that I would be in the 150-year anniversary parade. To be selected as queen is such an honor. I’ve worked so hard for many years, so it makes me emotional! I can be looking at flowers and I’ll think, “Soon I’ll put you into a lei, and then I will put that lei on my horse, and I will say aloha to the spectators and they will smile and say aloha back to me.” It’s a gratifying experience, and I will have the people I love around me. That’s why I do it, I really feel that I’m contributing to that legacy, that tradition of pāʻū. Ke Akua has shown me aloha through the years, and I’m grateful to work in an organization that bears the name and lineage of Kamehameha ʻEkahi. I have been truly blessed and supported by our benevolent Ke Aliʻi Pauahi in so many ways.

E ka ʻohana Kamehameha! Visit the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts website for more information about the events happening throughout the pae ʻāina! See Kēhau and the many others involved in preserving pāʻū riding during the King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade in Honolulu on Saturday, June 11 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bring your ʻohana and wave your hae Hawaiʻi!

Jeffrey Gaspar, Kēhau Peʻa, Makamae Recca, and Derrick Koani wait at ʻIolani Palace before the 2018 King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade.

Left: Queen Emma in a riding habit, 1880. Courtesy of Hawaiʻi State Archives. Right: A group of Pāʻū riders, ca. 1880s. Courtesy of PBA Galleries.

An engraving of a pāʻū rider that appeared in Isabella Lucy Bird’s “The Hawaiian Archipelago: six months among the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of the Sandwich islands.” (John Murray: London, 1890).

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