When most people picture Hawaii, they visualize beaches, coconuts, and tropical fish, but not cattle farms. When I first visited Hawaii, I was surprised to learn that there are real cowboys there. The islands have several cattle ranches. Hey, if I was a cow, I think I’d like living on Hawaii.
Here’s a little background on how cattle first came to Hawaii per the Bishop Museum
In 1793 Captain George Vancouver gave Kamehameha I the first cattle in the Islands. Kamehameha imposed a ten-year kapu (restriction) to protect the animals, allowing them to breed and wander without restraint.
Vancouver believed that cattle could be a new resource for Hawaii. But because the cattle were allowed to roam and become established in the wild, they seriously harmed native forests. They left the uplands to ravage gardens and farms in the villages below. Stonewalls were constructed and cactus barriers were planted to stop this menace.
The walls and barriers weren’t enough to contain and manage the cattle. So, in 1838, Spanish-Mexican vaqueros from California came to Hawaii at the request of King Kamehameha III. The vaqueros taught the Hawaiians how to manage the wild herds.
The word for a Hawaiian cowboy is paniolo. There is a rich and proud history of the Hawaiian paniolo. The Bishop Museum describes the uniqueness of the paniolo here:
Central to paniolo heritage is an appreciation of nature, music, and the skills of artisans who created saddles, lau hala hats, featherwork, braided rope, flower lei and other items. Island cowboys favored ukulele and kika (guitar) music and songs written in Hawaiian. Though the cattle industry has declined, paniolo traditions remain popular in local culture today.
The Parker Ranch on the Big Island is a famous cattle farm as is Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, but there are many more ranches throughout Hawaii. The Molokai Ranch in the upcountry of Molokai is another well known cattle ranch. If you’re on Maui and going to Haleakala, keep your eyes open for cattle farms in the upcountry.
This year, 2008, has been declared the year of the paniolo in Hawaii. There will be special events scattered throughout the year celebrating the paniolo. See this link for a few event listings.
Photo credit of Maui cowboys to wildphotons at flickr.