Pau Riders: Festivals of Aloha in Hawaii

Maui Pa'u rider
Pa’u rider in pink represents the island of Maui during Festivals of Aloha parade

You can spot them from a distance. Their strong necks draped in floral leis; their bodies covered in brightly colored Hawaiian silk fabric. These high stepping parade horses carry pa’u riders. These Hawaiian royalty, with a historic past, make their presence known in today’s rebirth of the island of Lana’i.

Festivals of Aloha

It has been two years since the Festivals of Aloha has seen a parade, complete with horses, equestrians and Paniolos or Hawaiian cowboys, circle Dole Park in Lanai City. Parades with pa’u riders and horses don’t materialize overnight. It take time and money to match horses with riders and make the intricate floral leis that complete the pa’u rider’s costume.

Pa'u rider, Kauai, Hawaii
Pa’u rider on horseback representing the island of Kauai

Insights from a Pa’u rider

“Having the experience to be honored as a pa’u rider for two years, one, representing the island of Ni’ihau, and the other, representing the island of Maui, was definitely one that is close to the heart,” reflects Charity Texeira of Lana’i.  “I was not an experienced equestrian rider, thus, the time and efforts that I dedicated to practice on the horses I was “assigned”, twice a week for about four weeks prior to the parade event, was one that were no doubt worth it. I had to overcome the intensity of riding a horse solo. By the time the parade came about, it was like “Ace” and I were buddies!  What made it even more memorable, was the honor to represent the islands; wrapped up intricately with satin, secured with the proper placement of the kukui nuts, then draped with beautiful island flowers, and a fragrant hairpiece to finish. I can tell you, that I never looked at myself as a ‘queen’, but on those particular days, I surely rode with royalty!

Watching the Festivals of Aloha parade really brought up those memories for me. I am very happy to be able to say that I was a part of the experience.  To bring back culture and history into our present times really humbles you. Here in Lana’i, we live in a tranquil place of beauty; one that we will cherish and preserve!”

History of Pa’u

Hawaiian cowboy
Hawaiian cowboy on a horseback riding vacation in Lanai, Hawaii

The large and colorful pa’u, or skirt, was designed to cover and protect the lady’s ballgown so as not to arrive soiled from riding horseback during her travels. Each female pa’u rider wears a different colored equestrian outfit representing the color of her island. In the Festivals of Aloha parade, this pa’u unit hailed from Maui and represented the islands of Maui in pink, yellow for Oahu, blue for the Big Island, purple for Kauai, green for Molokai and orange for Lana’i.

Pa'u riders from  Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Hawaii
Pa’u riders representing (l to r) Big Island, Maui & Oahu, Hawaii

Becoming a Pa’u Princess

Pa’u Princesses are judged on their horsemanship skills, as well as their appearance. It takes about 12 yards of satin fabric to cover a gown. The pa’u wrap is secured with six or eight kukui nuts. Next comes the floral leis for the horses and equestrian riders. I was surprised to learn that the pa’u units make the leis for the riders and paniolos. With so many flowers needed to cover both horse and rider, it is important to only pick a few flowers from one plant in order to insure its continuity. Of course, every pa’u rider needs a good pair of cowboy boots to complete the outfit.

Pa'u riders from Maui, Hawaii
Pa’u riders at Festivals of Aloha parade, Lanai, Hawaii

Hawaiian Paniolos

Rounding out the equestrian part of a parade are the Hawaiian cowboys or Paniolos. Decked out in flower laced cowboy hats and wearing aloha shirts and cowboy boots, these men on horseback match well with pa’u riders.

If You Go

Festivals of Aloha

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Lana’i Visitors Bureau, but all opinions are my own.

6 thoughts on “Pau Riders: Festivals of Aloha in Hawaii”

  1. I am always curious to discover about different festivals all over the world. Festivals of Aloha in Hawaii seems to be a really great one. I hope one day I’ll make it there and experience it for myself.

  2. @Laura Festivals of Aloha is not only celebrated on the island of Lanai, but all over the Hawaiian islands. I hope you get a chance to experience this for yourself.

  3. Aloha,
    so beautiful are the maidens and so handsome are the paniolos. keep up the perpetuating of our HAWAIIAN Culture and Traditions. Even on our small island homes, we need to continue for our future kamalii’s, makua’s, kupuna’s.

    side note, to the lanai board, would you happen to have a copy of your pa’u contest scoring sheet available. plz email to me. mahalo…………..

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