Ethnic and cultural festivals return to Oʻahu after 2 years of pandemic impacts
Grant Murata has performed at every Okinawan Festival since it began in the 1980s. The 60-year-old has been teaching sanshin, an Okinawan string instrument, since he was 19. And he’s been playing since he was 14.
His students range in age from 7 to 90 years old, and he’s excited to take about 60 of them to the festival next weekend.
“I think the organizers of the Okinawan Festival at that time, as well as I think even now, their interest was to see if they could highlight the younger entertainers… so that they can showcase a portion of their community that is trying to carry on the traditions,” Murata said. “I felt that I'm doing my part in training these younger guys.”
The Okinawan Festival is one of many ethnic and cultural staples returning this year. During the past two years, several of these festivals were canceled or held virtually due to the pandemic.
For the volunteers who plan and run these festivals, they said it’s so much more than an event.
“It's kind of an indescribable feeling that I think once people are involved and start helping, they feel that spirit,” said Okinawan Festival chair Clarisse Kobashigawa. “They feel that passion. They feel that sense of community, that sense of helping out and chipping into something just greater than just yourself.”
Kobashigawa said organizers decided to bring the popular event back in person at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center on Sept. 3 and 4 after polling their members.
Planning the festival during the pandemic has been challenging, she said, especially with holding virtual meetings and taking account of all levels of comfort. Kobashigawa said they are expecting about 40,000 attendees and will have about 2,000 to 4,000 volunteers to run the two-day festival. She said she is one of about 30 to 40 people who are part of the core planning committee.
Because the festival, which is organized by the Hawaiʻi United Okinawa Association, was held virtually for the past two years, she said they missed being together.
“I get choked up because people were really hurting over those years,” Kobashigawa said, “and just over the disconnect, especially for an organization like ours, where it's multi-generational, finding ways to reconnect everyone.”
Another cultural festival returning this year is the Honolulu Intertribal Powwow, which is organized by the Oʻahu Intertribal Council. The event was canceled in 2020 and 2021.
Mae Prieto, a longtime council member and past president, said bringing Powwow back was important, especially because there is no Native American reservation in the islands.
“We kept watching the COVID numbers and the health reports and crossing our fingers. And we still were in a planning mode,” she said. “So, we were praying most of the time, you know, let's just do this, let's keep moving forward.”
Prieto said it has been a challenge planning Powwow during the pandemic and with rising costs – from more tents and chairs to compostable trays for food. That forced them to scale back a little this year, but she said they’re still excited.
She is one of just nine people responsible for coordinating the Powwow. They are expecting about 2,000 people on Sept. 10 and 11 at Bishop Museum. And they typically need about 200 volunteers to work the event.
She said her mom, who died in 2013, is her biggest inspiration to keep Powwow going.
“I could see the passion that she had for her culture and how it was such a big deal for her,” Prieto said. “And as mom got older and eventually could no longer attend because of her health, I could see the sadness and disappointment in her eyes. And I really didn’t like seeing that. So I said, you know, I'm going to do this for her.”
A Day in Portugal Festa returned earlier this month at Hawaiʻi’s Plantation Village in Waipahu. It was also canceled for the past two years.
Larry Cravalho, Portuguese Culture and Historical Center president, said about 1,000 people attended and about 40 volunteers worked the event. Cravalho, who is one of only four people on the festival planning committee, said they also had to deal with a “tremendous amount of changes” during the planning, including health requirements and city permits.
But he said they’re already planning for next year’s festival.
“People may see friends that they haven't seen for 20 years,” Cravalho said. “Next thing you know, they're sitting down on the bench, and they're talking about something that happened 15 years ago or 20 years ago. So when you see those kinds of things, it's very rewarding.”
Other upcoming festivals include the Aloha Festivals, the Hispanic Heritage Festival and the Festivals of Aloha.