Pa’u Riders at the Na Kamehameha Parade

In the parade each island is represented by a unit of riders, including that island’s Princess and her attendants. Each island has a color and flower associated with it. For Maui it is the pink lokelani rose.  Ashley Lehuanani Branco, representing Maui, took First Place in the Princess Division competition. 

Preparing Mahala for the parade.

Mahala with her rider. So pretty!

These are some of the lei for the Molokai Unit, the flower is the Kukui nut blossom. They have woven in strands of Kukui nuts. I was told it took five 14-hour days to make all the lei for their Unit.

Here it is with horse and rider.

Representing the small, uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe.

This beauty is half Thoroughbred, half Clydesdale.

In the Pa’u Unit Division competition, Kauai came in First Place, lead by Princess Charlene Sueko.  I love her headdress, made of strands of lavender crown flower and pale green mokihana berries, the “flower” of Kauai. They are also woven into her horse’s lei.

At the end of a very long morning…nap time!

More about  the tradition of Pa’u riders, from Maui No Ka Oi Magazine:

By Jill Engledow

Exuberant and horse-crazy, Hawaiian women of the nineteenth century loved to ride at breakneck speed with their skirts flying behind them. What one writer called the “gay, winged dress” of these early horsewomen was the pa‘u, a distinctively Hawaiian riding costume now seen mostly in parades.

The pa‘u—a skirt or sarong—was the primary garment of women in pre-Contact Hawai‘i. When horses arrived, wahines chose to ride astride, rather than sidesaddle, hitching up the skirts of their long western-style dresses and tucking them in around their legs. To protect their dresses as they rode joyfully through the dusty streets of Honolulu or on muddy country roads, they wrapped lengths of fabric in the traditional pa‘u style. Travel writer Isabella Bird described pa‘u riders in 1875 as “flying along astride, barefooted, with their orange or scarlet riding dresses streaming on each side beyond their horses’ tails, a bright kaleidoscopic flash of bright eyes, white teeth, shiny hair, garlands of flowers. . . .”

In the early 1900s, pa‘u riders became a regular feature of parades, with both rider and horse often decorated in the colors associated with the various islands. Next time you attend a Hawai‘i parade, watch for a lovely pa‘u rider wearing Maui Island’s pink, with flowers and lei adorning horse and rider as her satin pa‘u flows gracefully in the breeze.


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