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Pa‘u Parade honors history, culture and loved ones

Hawaii event celebrating 150 years returns to Front Street

Haiku resident Leila Kalani Larson, Princess Kaua‘i for the 2022 Pa‘u Parade, sits atop her horse while wearing a purple gown and pa‘u adorned in Kaua‘i island’s flowers, mokihana. — Photo courtesy of Leila Kalani Larson

Haiku resident Leila Kalani Larson will be honoring several traditions, people and values as she rides horseback today in the Pa’u Parade, a Hawaii-wide event that celebrates 150 years of history, culture and the legacy of King Kamehameha.

Adorned in purple colors and the island flower mokihana, Larson will make her way through historic Lahaina Town as Princess Kauai and as a symbol of her late mother’s spirit — Nancy Larson passed away from cancer in 2014.

“Every year I ride in honor of my beautiful mother,” said Larson, who has represented the islands of Hawai’i, O’ahu and Maui in previous parades. “It’s that moment when you get wrapped in the beautiful pa’u and mount your horse and ride down Front Street representing each island, seeing all the beautiful smiling faces of all the kupuna and keiki waving back — that is priceless.”

Larson, 38, recalled how her mom would take her and her brother to the parade when they were kids growing up in Makawao town.

“As the beautiful pa’u riders would be riding their horses down the street, my mother would always look down at me and say, ‘look Leila, that will be you someday,’ ” said Larson on Tuesday.

Tia Perdido Ampong of Kula prepares lei during the 2021 virtual Pa‘u Parade. This year she will be riding in person down Front Street in Lahaina as Princess Ni‘ihau. — Photo courtesy of Tia Perdido Ampong

Now a mother of her own to 14-year-old Zion, who’s been helping with preparations, Larson said the tradition of being a pa’u princess “means so much to me.”

“It gives me great honor and pride to represent all the islands as a pa’u princess,” she said.

While picking flowers and doing last minute preparations on Wednesday, Pa’u Commissioner Moani Whittle Wagner said that this is also a special year as the Pa’u Parade returns to West Maui after a two-year hiatus amid the COVID-19 pandemic — it was held virtually last year at Oskie Rice Arena.

“We are excited to be back on Front Street,” said Wagner, adding that she’s honored to help celebrate Hawaiian culture in perpetuity. “There’s going to be so much aloha.”

The theme this year is “E Ola Ka Mo’i Kamehameha,” or long live King Kamehameha.

“As a horse owner myself, I appreciate all the hard work and dedication it takes to be a pa’u rider,” she said. “From traveling around the island gathering flowers, to making all the horse lei and body lei to grooming our horses and training them for the parade.”

Wearing white and pupu shells, Kula resident Tia Perdido Ampong, 37, will be riding as the Princess of Ni’ihau.

“The memories made with my pa’u ohana and the knowledge and experience we gain from the whole pa’u process which includes getting our horses parade ready, gathering and collecting the flowers and supplies for six horse leis and body leis, and making them together with our family and friends — a truly priceless experience,” Ampong said Tuesday. “The purpose of this event is to honor the memory of the Kamehameha lineage and to represent your island with pride and Aloha.”

The Ni’ihau unit decided to go with more earthy and natural colors, like the ‘a’ali’i from Upcountry, ti leaves from Ampong’s aunty’s house in Haiku, wood roses from the Hui No’eau and palapalai from Laoa farms, Ampong said.

“I am also honored to be wearing a Ni’ihau shell necklace that was gifted to my step dad by his friends from Ni’ihau,” the University of Hawaii Maui College graduate said. “It is truly an honor to be able to represent the island of Ni’ihau. It is known as the ‘Forbidden Island’ and is an invite-only destination where they are upholding their commitment to preserving its proud Hawaiian heritage.

“I have always been really interested in visiting the island to experience the uniqueness of the island and its people.”

For 43-year-old Rachel Emma Kahealani ‘Uweko’olani-DeCoite, who has ridden in all eight island units, learning more about each island over the years “has been very special for myself as well as my ohana.”

This year, she will be Princess Kaho’olawe, an island where she’s had the pleasure of spending time on back in the ’90s for hula.

“One year we traveled to Ni’ihau to get a feel of the island and all of its beauty,” she said Wednesday. “But doing Kaho’olawe with my sister Kalei ‘Uweko’olani means more to us than any other year as we are dedicating our ride to our mom Mrs. Susie ‘Uweko’olani, who passed away three years ago.

“She was a true inspiration to all of us,” she added. “But we know she will be with us riding down Front Street.”

Though originally from Kahului, ‘Uweko’olani-DeCoite currently resides in Utah, so being back home on Maui for the weekend is what she looks forward to most, including “seeing everyone’s faces down Front Street” and “showing the love we all share for pa’u.”

To help make Kaho’olawe’s gray-themed color and island flower hinahina stand out more, spectators will see ‘Uweko’olani-DeCoite wearing some royal blue, as well as adorning the clothing with a’ali’i, spanish moss, hydrangea flowers, silver buttonwood, kakalaioa, laua’e and cymbidium orchid.

The 2022 Pa’u Court also includes Hawai’i island Princess Desiree Ku’ulei Akimseu, Moloka’i Princess Melanie Malia Pali-Kaneakua, Maui Princess Sofia Kaleimamo Salvatierra, O’ahu Princess Daphne Emmalani Lukela and Lana’i Princess Robin Lynn Baylosis.

Makawao residents Glenn Berce and wife Linda Uradomo-Berce were chosen to be the 2022 Pa’u Grand Marshal and Pa’u Queen, respectively.

Though there are certain criteria to become grand marshal and queen, candidates are also those who have “contributed to the success of pa’u and Kamehameha Day parade, and rodeo, and livestock on Maui,” Wagner said.

An accomplished horseman and cowboy, Berce is a lifetime member of Maui Roping Club and has won several Hawaii State Championships in reining, cutting and working cow horse events.

He’s also the chairman of the Livestock & Poultry Exhibit of the Maui Fair for more than 35 years. He volunteers as a live auctioneer of livestock, fine dining, hotel, and travel for local charitable fundraisers.

Growing up in Upcountry Maui, Uradomo-Berce has a passion for horses and Western riding, and has participated in many Maui Horse Show Association shows, volunteered with the Maui Fair Livestock and Poultry exhibit and has represented the islands of Kaho’olawe, Lana’i and Ni’ihau in pa’u units over the years.

The couple’s daughter, Gabrielle Celestine Berce, will be participating in the parade as reigning Miss Rodeo Hawaii.

The parade will start at 9:45 a.m. along Front Street from Kenui Street to Shaw Street. Front Street will be closed to vehicle traffic.

Meanwhile, the ho’olaule’a will take place under the Lahaina Banyan Tree and have free exhibits, keiki activities, a parade and pa’u awards presentation, food booths supporting community nonprofits, Maui-made crafters, music and hula.

The festivities are scheduled to last until 5:30 p.m.

Wagner said that all the lei, pa’u and other foliage collected is used to decorate the stage at the ho’olaule’a, while the remaining pieces are gifted to kupuna, families or dismantled and returned back to the ‘aina.

“We want to welcome everyone back safely to Lahaina for this event,” event coordinator Daryl Fujiwara said in a news release. “Sacred Hearts is celebrating 160 years and one of our partners, Lahaina Restoration Foundation, is celebrating 50 years and the holiday itself honoring King Kamehameha is celebrating 150 years — lots to celebrate.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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