On Friday, August 30th at 7 p.m., the Historic Palace Theater in Downtown Hilo will present “Paniolo, Stories and Songs of the Hawaiian Cowboy”, an original presentation by one of Hawaiʻi’s most prominent theatre artists, Moses Goods. Ticket info below.

“Paniolo” brings the fascinating history and legacy of the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) to the stage.  This hour-long production includes songs, both original and traditional, and brings to life key moments in the evolution of this unique and treasured Hawaiian culture.

Commissioned by Honolulu Theatre for Youth, “Paniolo” premiered at Tenney Theatre on October 29, 2018 and played for 10,000 people in its month-long run.  The show features Moses Goods (also the playwright) and “Waimea boy” Kapono Nāʻiliʻili.  Director Eric Johnson and designer Chelsey Cannon make up the other half of this talented creative team.

Long before Mainland rodeos, Hawaiian paniolo rode the range and hunted wild cattle on the Big Island. Ikua Purdy learned to rope wild bullocks when he was just ten years old.

Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low, owner and manager of Pu`uwa`awa`a Ranch, attended “Frontier Days” in 1907, and just knew his ranch hands could do better than the mainland cowboys. In 1908, he sent three of his top men – Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`au`a (Eben’s half-brother) and Jack Low (Eben’s brother) – to the competition in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “Rawhide Ben” was an expert roper and cattleman, even after a rope holding a rampaging bull twisted around his left wrist and severed hand.

Under drizzling Wyoming skies, Purdy won the World’s Steer Roping Championship—roping, throwing, and tying the steer in 56 seconds flat. Ka’au’a and Low took third and sixth place.

The headlines in Island and Wyoming newspapers in August of 1908 announced rodeo history when twelve thousand spectators, a huge number for those days, watched the Hawaiian Paniolo carry off top awards at the world-famous Cheyenne Rodeo. Unlike today’s calf-roping, back then riders lassoed powerful, full-grown steers. The Cheyenne paper reported that the performances of the dashing Hawaiians, in their vaquero-style clothing and flower-covered slouch hats, “took the breath of the American cowboys.” These and other exciting stories will be re-enacted in “Paniolo”.

Originally from the island of Maui and now based in Honolulu, Moses has traveled nationally and internationally performing his original work to a wide range of audiences.  His body of work ranges from full length plays to theatrical storytelling pieces, most of which are strongly rooted in Native Hawaiian culture.

In June of 2018, Moses had the honor of traveling to Waimea on the Big Island, one of the last towns in Hawaiʻi where the paniolo way of life is still practiced. He drove through the beautiful country and met with some very unforgettable people living in that humble community.  Moses reflects: “I was able to just sit and listen to them tell stories, reminisce and even sing a little.  A truly memorable experience for me. Dr. Billy Bergin, long time Parker Ranch veterinarian, is a well of knowledge on pretty much all things paniolo.  He graciously agreed to let me interview him. The interview lasted well over two hours until he had to leave for a prior engagement.   I could have sat and listened for hours more.  On my final evening in Waimea, a few families in the community put together a little gathering.  As the evening progressed these true paniolo right here really started to open up.  Oh, the stories they told!”

Moses is also the founder and artistic director of ʻInamona Theatre Company, an organization dedicated to reintroducing the native stories of Hawaiʻi to the community.  ʻInamona is a traditional Hawaiian relish made from the roasted kernel of the kukui (candlenut).  It is sprinkled sparingly over  mea ʻai (nourishing food) to gently enhance the natural flavor.  Moses believes that no matter how skilled the storyteller, his (or her) work is merely a condiment to the greater sustenance. The true “mea ʻai” are the stories that have come before us, the stories of our ancestors.

Tickets for “Paniolo” start at $10 for Children 16 years and younger and are on sale at the Palace Theater Box Office, by calling (808) 934-7010 or online at Reserved seating is available. Doors will open at 6 pm and the show will begin at 7. The show is a benefit for the historic Palace Theater and is made possible in part by a grant from the County of Hawaii. Don’t miss this heartwarming show about some true Hawaiian heroes. Stories even older than the Palace Theater itself, which was built in 1925.


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