Hawaii loves a good parade! Events and celebrations are frequently marked by parades but I think one of the most impressive is the Aloha Parade. I happened upon it by accident last year and was amazed at the sheer beauty of the flower-covered floats. This year, it has been on my calendar for months. In addition to the tropical beauty, the parade serves as an illustration of many facets of life in Hawaii.

The parade begins with a ceremonial blowing of the conch shell calling everyone together. The United States and State of Hawaii flags are carried by riders on horseback. There are always horses in parades in my hometown on the mainland but I didn’t realize how central they are in Hawaii. Just as parades in the midwest feature cowboys and rodeo princesses, the “paniolo” presence is celebrated in Hawaii. In fact, there were paniolos in Hawaii before other western states. The first cattle were brought as a gift to King Kamehameha in 1792 and by 1836 Hawaii had working cowboys. This heritage shows up several times throughout the Aloha Parade.

The first float honored the royal heritage of Hawaii, unique among the states. Other floats marked important historical events and celebrated the importance of hula. This parade was the first time I realized that hula is not just a dance for young, attractive girls to entertain onlookers in a performance. It is an activity for men and women of all ages with deeply spiritual roots and implications. Silver-haired women dance alongside very young girls, passing on the movements and love of hula to new generations.

Throughout the parade, groups on horseback represent each island. Each of Hawaii’s eight islands has its own color, flower and title. For example, Maui is the “Valley Isle”, its color is pink and the official lei flower is the Lokelani, or rose. In the parade, a woman in a beautiful pink gown represented Maui, followed by three young women and three men on horseback, also dressed in pink.

Another interesting feature of the parade is the prominence of high school marching bands. Hawaii has no professional sports. Many here are passionate about the University of Hawaii’s team sports (it is not unusual to pass restaurants where patrons gather to watch the UH women’s volleyball team). But the big rivalries are among high schools. The respective marching bands strut their stuff in the Aloha parade – beginning with large letters that spell out the name of the school. Some have traditional dancers, costumes or instruments, all have flags and rows of uniformed students playing instruments as they march.

I was so fortunate to have this illustrated welcome to Hawaii. It piqued my interest in many ways about my new home. Any time you visit, check to see if there is a parade — you may get lucky as I did because they are fairly frequent, marking most important occasions. Hawaii loves a parade!

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