Panaewa rodeo returns this weekend

  • Photo: CHUCK MCKEAND A competitor rides in the barrel racing event during the Pana‘ewa Stampede Rodeo.

  • Courtesy photo Rodeo events for keiki include mutton busting.

Starting Saturday and continuing through Monday, Feb. 17, the Hawaii Horse Owners Association will hold its 28th annual rodeo, “The 2020 Pana‘ewa Stampede” at the Pana‘ewa Equestrian Center in Hilo.

In addition to traditional rodeo events, this popular three-day rodeo will feature two uniquely Hawaiian competitions: the “Po‘o Wai U” and “Double Mugging.”


“Our hometown rodeo is a perfect family event,” said Nancy Cabral, one of the main organizers of the rodeo. “Locals and visitors alike can enjoy the exciting events and laugh at the antics of our rodeo clown, JJ Harrison. This year, we are pleased to include Rider Kiesner, a rodeo professional entertainer and Jason Buchanan, whose clips of songs and sounds add to the fun. While at the rodeo, stop by our food concessions, craft booths and our now popular beer tent.”

Rodeo attendees can watch bull riding, roping, mugging and bronc riding along with wahine (women) and keiki (children) events. The more adventurous in the audience can sign a form indicating that they are 18 years or older and are “sane and sober”, entitling them to participate in “fun with live bulls” in the arena. Last person “standing” (as in: “haven’t run or climbed the fence”) will earn a cash reward.

Tickets will be on sale on all three days at the Equestrian Center on Highway 11 going out of Hilo toward Volcano. Turn at the signs for the rodeo and the Panaewa Zoo.

Daily admission is $10 for adults, and children 12 and under are free. For more information, call 937-1004.

Hawaiian cowboys, known as “paniolo,” have a long history of handling cows, beginning in 1793 when Captain George Vancouver presented King Kamehameha I with a gift of a herd of cattle. Not having a ranch in the traditional sense, King Kamehameha placed a “kapu” (taboo) on these cattle and allowed them to roam freely to insure their survival.

In 1803, horses were brought to the islands as another gift to the king, presented by Richard Cleveland. By the 1830s, the wild cattle had become quite a nuisance and were often dangerous.

Stone walls seen around the Big Island were frequently constructed to keep these wild cows out of populated areas. At first these “pipi ‘ahiu” (wild cattle) were hunted for their meat and hides. As trade and commerce with the world outside of Hawaii grew, the Hawaiian kings needed goods to trade to support their royal expenses. The idea of commercial uses of these wild cattle thus came about. To help teach the Hawaiians how to handle the cattle, vaqueros were brought in from Mexico. The Hawaiian word “paniolo” was derived from this Spanish influence.

The “Po‘o Wai U” was a technique developed by the paniolo to capture these free-ranging, wild cattle. A wild steer would be lassoed around its horns and then tied to a tree. Overnight, the steer would hopefully wear itself out. The next day, the paniolo would return to bring in the untamed steer. One of the wild cows would be tied together with one or two tamer cattle, and then the trio of cows would be herded back to the ranch.


In this rodeo event commemorating this activity, a cowboy will have to lasso a steer by the horns, pass the rope through a Y-shaped pole (simulating a tree), snugging the steer to the pole with the rope tied to his horse. The horse will have to stand and maintain the pull of the rope to keep the steer against the pole while the cowboy ties another rope around the steer’s neck and to the pole. As the steers used for this event are not your friendly tame cow, the cowboy and his horse have to work expertly and closely together.

“Double Mugging” is another unique event found only in Hawaiian rodeos. Harking back to the story of capturing wild cattle, tying them to a tree was only the first part of returning from areas overgrown with trees to the ranch with a cankerous wild steer. In this rodeo event, two paniolo will work together to knock a steer to the ground and tie up three of its legs. This event involves full-size steers and often turns into a wrestling match between man and beast.

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