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Rarely told stories of paniolo featured in two-man play

Moses Goods (left) and Kapono Na‘ili‘ili appear in a scene from “Paniolo.” Na‘ili‘ili, formerly of HAPA, serves as both accompanist and co-star as the two present history and legacy of the paniolo through storytelling and songs, including “Waiomina” and “Hawaiian Cowboy.”

Playwright and actor Moses Goods returns to Maui with his latest original play “Paniolo.” A graduate of Maui High School, audiences will remember Goods from his one-person plays “DUKE,” and “My Name is “Opukaha’ia” presented in the McCoy Studio Theater.

“For many years I compiled a list focusing largely on stories about Hawaii,” said Goods. “Stories of our legends and history, like Duke Kahanamoku. One of the people I was drawn to was Ikua Purdy, he’s been fascinating to me for years.”

Tonight, he presents Purdy’s story and the history of the Hawaiian cowboy with “Paniolo” in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.

I asked Goods if he preferred small-scale shows for their intimacy and ability to tour easily.

“It’s largely for that reason, yes. I’ve continued to take these shows to new communities, and it is much easier if I keep the team small. I don’t have to put together rehearsals with a large cast. ‘Paniolo’ is a two-person show.” Goods’ “Paniolo” cast member is Kapono Na’ili’ili, formerly of HAPA, who serves as both accompanist and co-star as the two present history and legacy of the paniolo through storytelling and songs, including “Waiomina” and “Hawaiian Cowboy.”

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards (left) and Rina Mehta appear in a scene from Leela Dance Collective’s Hawaii premier of “SPEAK.” The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Castle Theater at MACC. AY SEIWART photo

The story of the paniolo began when George Vancouver, a British captain, arrived in Hawaii with a unique gift of five cows and one bull for King Kamehameha I. To Hawaiians these new animals seemed to go by many names — cows, cattle, bulls, steers, heifers, and calves, but the Hawaiians decided on beef. However, because of the language, the name become bifi, and since the letters B and F weren’t part of the Hawaiian alphabet they were both changed to P. So the original Hawaiian word for cow is pipi, and yes, it’s pronounced exactly the way you’re thinking.

King Kamehameha so loved this gift that he put pipi under kapu, meaning that no one was allowed to kill them. By 1830 there were more than 40,000 roaming free, trampling taro patches, devouring crops and destroying native plants. While visiting California, King Kamehameha III observed very skilled Mexican cattlemen, the vaqueros. The men that were recruited to train the future Hawaiian cowboys had such a profound effect on the culture that they received a special honor. Paniolo is Hawaiian for cowboy. Several years later, vaqueros trained the new immigrants of Texas. Paniolos actually preceded the Texas cowboy and our idea of the wild west.

Some 70 years later, Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low, owner and manager of Pu’uwa’awa’a Ranch, attended Cheyenne, Wyo., Frontier Days in 1907 where he quickly determined that his ranch hands would fare better than Mainland cowboys. In 1908, Low sent his three top hands, Purdy, Archie Ka’au’a and Jack Low to the competition. The trio wowed the spectators in the World Championship as Purdy won the steer-roping contest in 56 seconds, Ka’au’a came in second and Low placed sixth.

“The story of Purdy is my favorite. I love telling it and it’s the longest story in the play,” Goods shared. “Because our culture is one that will not brag, these stories are rarely told. Purdy was from the Big Island, but he spent many years on Maui. Many of his ancestors live on Maui today. ‘Paniolo’ is Hawaiian history, but absolutely a part of Maui history as well. I want to educate young people about our history and inspire the next generation,” he added.

“Paniolo” premiered with the Honolulu Theater for Youth, and Goods hopes to orchestrate an outer island tour for schools in the future. He and Na’ili’ili will present two additional private performances for Maui school children at the Castle Theater today.

I asked Goods if he had learned anything new in his research of the paniolos.

“The final story I share. It speaks to gender identity. There is a place for everyone in Hawaiian culture historically, and I learned that applies to Paniolo culture too,” he replied. Goods had a two-hour interview with Billy Bergen of the Parker Ranch in Waimea, and he related another tale he never heard before. “I asked if he had one story to share what would it be. He told me about Ioane Ha’a. Ioane was called the Robin Hood of Waimea. Yes he stole cows and pigs, but he gave those animals to the people in need.”

Goods related why Maui audiences should attend tonight. “My plays are stories about us. There are always so many things we don’t know about our past, and I guarantee you will learn something about paniolo history that you never knew.”

* The Maui Arts and Cultural Center presents “Paniolo.” Performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 in the Castle Theater at MACC. Tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees) with half-price tickets for children age 3 through 12. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order at www.mauiarts.org.

ALSO THIS WEEK

After three sold out shows in November, actor and musician Eric Gilliom returns with two “hana hou,” performances of his one-man show, “White Hawaiian,” co-created by writer/director Brian Kohne (“Kuleana”). With comedy, pathos and music, Gilliom explores identity through the lens of Hawaiian history and contemporary culture in this autobiographical story about a family of entertainers and hope. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 7 and 8 in McCoy Studio Theater at MACC. Tickets range from $25 to $35 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event visit MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

Maui OnStage’s ONO! (One Night Only) series returns with a “Booga Booga”-style comedy reading of “Twelf Nite O Whateva!,” adapted by James Grant Benton, directed by Gordon Samuelson. The performance is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 at Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. The free ONO! events happen every second Monday of the month. For more information visit www.mauionstage.com.

The Maui Arts and Cultural Center presents Leela Dance Collective’s Hawaii premier of “SPEAK.” Indian kathak and American jazz tap dance share parallel stories of struggle and perseverance in “SPEAK.” Serving as a bridge between tradition and innovation the production features rhythm, poetry, storytelling, music and dance in a collaboration of kathak dancers and tap dancers who carry forward the legacy of iconic artists like Pandit Chitresh Das, Dr. Jimmy Slyde and James Buster Brown, while bringing to the forefront the voices of female artists, Rina Mehta, Rachna Nivas, Michelle Dorrance, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Performance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 in Castle Theater at MACC. Tickets range from $35 to $65 (plus applicable fees), with half-priced tickets age 12 and under.

To purchase tickets for any MACC event visit MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

OPPORTUNITIES

Maui OnStage will hold auditions for “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. All roles are available. Actors should memorize a one- to two-minute monologue, arrive 10 minutes early to fill out audition forms, bring a headshot and resume, and be prepared to provide your potential rehearsal conflicts.

Callbacks will be at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the Maui OFFStage studio in Wailuku.

Rehearsals will begin the following week with weekend performances April 24 through May 10. For character descriptions and to make an appointment, sign up through the “Get Involved/Auditions” page at www.mauionstage.com.