The Hawaiian Tradition of Pa‘u Riding

Pa‘u princess, Island of Lana‘i.

As Kamehameha Day approaches on June 11, equestrians throughout the Hawaiian Islands are preparing for floral parades in honor of the great monarch, King Kamehameha I.

Adorned in the colors and flora of the islands, the regal pa‘u riders are the highlight of every parade. Led by a princess outfitted in a long-flowing pa‘u or “skirt,” each of the mounted equestrian units represents one of eight Hawaiian islands. A unit representing the Island of Hawai‘i, for example, will be draped in lei made of red lehua blossoms and wearing red attire, the official color of the Big Island. For the Island of Maui, the lokelani (rose) is incorporated, with pink as the chosen color, while Island of O‘ahu features the yellow ilima and yellow attire. In order to become the parade queen, a rider should have ideally ridden for each of the eight islands in parades through the years.

The wrapping of pa‘u in traditional fabric.

A type of culotte, the pa‘u skirt is made of 9- or 12-yards of fabric, wrapped in such a way so as to flow majestically past the stirrups to the ground. The skirt is held together with kukui nuts twisted inside the fabric and tucked into the waistband. The tradition dates to the 1800s when women wore pa‘u to protect their fancy clothing when riding to a party or gathering. The early 1900s heralded the arrival of pa‘u floral parades in Honolulu. Through the decades, the pa‘u parade tradition continued, not only for Kamehameha Day, but for Merrie Monarch and Aloha Festivals Week as well. Fabrics evolved into satins, but in the early days, calico or gingham were the fabrics of choice, fastened with rope around the waist and ankles and covering both feet.

Kamehameha Day Parade, June 11, Kailua-Kona.

Preparing a unit for parade day involves weeks of work, from the gathering of natural materials for lei to the sewing of garments, the making of banners and lei, and the wrapping of the pa‘u. Skilled horsemanship is also paramount. A pa‘u princess should be a good enough equestrian to display personality and aloha while on top of her mount. The elders of the pa‘u tradition feel its their kuleana (responsibility) to teach the tradition to future generations.

When you book your romantic Hawaiian vacation at Holualoa Inn this June, be sure to venture down to Kailua-Kona, just a five-minute drive from the inn, for the annual floral parade on Ali‘i Drive. Your Holualoa Inn ohana will help you with all the details of your Kona itinerary.

Innkeeper Holualoa Inn