The annual Aloha Festivals parade is a primer on Hawaii history and culture. It is the highlight of a month of activities that celebrates the spirit of aloha in the islands.

A princess from the royal court rides down Kuhio Avenue during last year’s parade.

You can learn a lot about a place from its parades. The Aloha Festival parade taught me:

  • Hawaii is a collection of islands with their own identities, like a federation. Just like people in Scotland or Ireland may be members of Great Britain, which is considered a secondary identity. The inpidual islands are represented in the parade, each with their own color, flower and princesses.
  • Each island has a flower! How cool is that? There are certainly plenty to go around but still. One of the things many visitors remember about Hawaii is the beauty and variety of the flowers. It is fun that the islands themselves adopt a floral identity.
  • Island princesses! But these are not Disney creations. They are beautiful women of many ages who ride equally beautiful horses (adorned with flowers). They are skilled riders who guide their horses through turns and bows. There is no whip, this is a dance with carefully choreographed moves.

Enjoy hula of the islands at the Aloha Festivals.

  • Hula knows no age limits. Before visiting Hawaii, the image of a “hula dancer” may be the grass-skirted dashboard doll. But on floats, people of all ages dance hula: men and women, young and old. There is nothing more beautiful than to see grey-haired dancers making sure the young ones don’t fall off the stage as they mimic the moves of more experienced performers. Hula is so much more than a dance. Even if you don’t understand or appreciate the spiritual connection, it is hard to miss the inter-generational transmission of culture. It is watching Hawaii perpetuate itself.
  • High school is a big deal in Hawaii. There are marching bands from an amazing number of high schools. One of the first things that people say when they are meeting one another is what high school they attended. It’s included in news articles about islanders who become famous, “He invented an anti-gravity machine and is a graduate of XXX High School.”
  • The parade floats illustrate current events. The year that Father Damien was sainted, there was a huge float with following marchers. The year of the census, there was a census float. Whatever is an issue in the islands will show up adorned with flowers.

A parade’s floats often reflect what’s happening in Hawaii.

  • Attitude matters. This is an entire festival for a feeling: aloha. It’s not a famous person or historical event or geographical monument; it is a festival that celebrates the spirit of aloha.

I have had people ask me which luau or other activity is the most “authentic” in Hawaii. I believe the Aloha Festivals truly represents an authentic Hawaii. The people of the islands celebrate the land, the culture and the connection that binds them. If you have the chance to be in the islands in September, you have an open invitation to join in a truly local celebration – at no charge!

This year, the Aloha Festival theme is “Hoonui Ike: To increase knowledge, enrich.” The Festivals recognize the 125th anniversary of Kamehameha Schools, the legacy of Ke Alii Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great granddaughter of King Kamehameha I. To participate in the events, from the Royal Court Investiture on Sept. 6, 2012 to the parade on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, is to join in a celebration of Hawaii.

66TH ANNUAL ALOHA FESTIVALS • Sept. 6 to 22, 2012 • Waikiki, Oahu • For a list of free events, visit www.alohafestivals.com

Photo Credit: Aloha Festivals

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