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Neighbor island arts and cultural staples return after 2 years of pandemic challenges

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Festivals of Aloha
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HPR
Festivals of Aloha 2019

Daryl Fujiwara has helped organize the Festivals of Aloha on Maui, Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi for many years.

“It was to give everyone an authentic and real way… to learn authentic Hawaiian culture for everyone’s towns,” he said. “Because everyone’s traditions are different. Even their language is different … and their culture and their traditions are just as colorful.

2019 Festivals of Aloha Lanai .jpg
Festivals of Aloha
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HPR
Festivals of Aloha 2019

The Festivals of Aloha is one of several arts and cultural staples on the neighbor islands that returns in person this year after two years of pandemic impacts.

Although many festivals are concentrated on Oʻahu, Fujiwara and others say there is a vibrant arts and culture scene on the neighbor islands that serve our diverse communities.

“People really miss having our events. A lot of small businesses and mom and pop shops, especially on Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi, really depend on these events,” he said. “We’re not just this wonderful Hawaiian showcase … but we’re also an economic driver for our communities as well.”

Fujiwara said they held events virtually for the past two years. They’re excited to kick off two months of festivities, which include a hoʻolauleʻa, falsetto contest, live performances and cultural activities, on Saturday, Sept. 3.

Prior to the pandemic, he said about 15,000 people attended the festivities, and they’re expecting more this year.

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Kōloa Plantation Days
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HPR
Kōloa Plantation Days parade

Kōloa Plantation Days on Kauaʻi is another cultural staple that returned fully in person.

Longtime event committee chair Melissa McFerrin Warrack said they held the festival virtually in 2020 and a mix of in-person and virtual events in 2021.

The 10-day festival, which was held in July, celebrates the ethnic groups that worked on the sugar plantation in Kōloa and the area’s rich history. It features a rodeo, talk story sessions, a parade and other events.

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Kōloa Plantation Days
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HPR
Kōloa Plantation Days rodeo

“Kōloa Plantation Days is a really interesting festival because it started with the community first. And then after many years, it was shared with our visitors,” McFerrin Warrack said. “So there’s a real authenticity about it.”

She said thousands of people attended the festival this year. That includes about 700 people participating in the parade. McFerrin Warrack is part of a 10-member planning team, which is mostly volunteers. She said it takes about 300 to 400 people to work and run the 25 events.

Because of the pandemic, she said it was difficult to plan the festival, especially with higher costs, funding challenges and health guidelines. But she said that helped them evolve as an organization.

“One of the challenges that many of these legacy festivals face is aging out and replenishing the well,” she said. “And we’ve seen a lot of excitement this year of people wanting to get involved for next year.”

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Nicholas Souza
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HPR
"Cabaret" at the East Hawaiʻi Cultural Center

In Hilo, the East Hawaiʻi Cultural Center reopened its theater in July with 11 sold-out shows of the musical “Cabaret.” It was the first production held at the center since it closed 2.5 years ago.

The Hilo Education Arts Repertory Theatre is the center’s resident theater company and the group that debuted “Cabaret.”

“The theatrical productions and the theatrical process for those of us that create theater is so important to us,” said artistic director Charles Haines. “It is our home. It is our community. And then we can see so clearly based on the way that people respond to our productions, that people need to hear and see live theater. They need those stories in their lives.”

He said their cast of about 30 relied on their understudies when others would be out because of COVID. They also wore masks and tested as much as possible, he said.

Haines grew up in a city in Alabama with a population similar to Oʻahu, so he said coming from those experiences made him appreciate even more so putting on productions in Hilo. He said the community always showed up for them.

“You quickly realize that human resources are even more precious, that the people that are involved are even more incredible and valuable to us,” he said. “It’s an incredibly rewarding process to create theater in a small town like Hilo.”

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at jomaye@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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