Cowboys in Hawaii?


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.  If you’re on Maui and going up or down from Haleakala, keep your eyes open for cattle farms in the upcountry and take a stroll through the little town of Makawao.

Photo credit of Maui cowboys to wildphotons at flickr.

  1. And did you know that it’s cheaper to ship cattle to the mainland than it is to ship the grain to feed them to Hawaii, so at about six months of age 75% of Hawaii’s cattle get to take a cruise to California. There they all become “happy California cows.”


  2. @ Laura – I’m glad you found it to be interesting, too.
    @ Susan – Thanks for the link to the parade and rodeo. I bet that’s a fun time!
    @ David – I hope the cows don’t have to wear formal attire for dinners on their cruise. 🙂

  3. Whenever we have to travel to Waimea (Kamuela) on the Big Island where we live, we stop at Tante’s Bar & Grill in the Parker Ranch Center for the most delicious hamburgers made from the Parker Ranch cows. If you are in Hilo, you can also get these grass fed local hamburgers at Ken’s Pancake House.

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