Okinawa community showcases its heritage

The Okinawa community on Kaua‘i had reason to be proud Saturday night.

After a year’s absence, the two-day Okinawa Festival returned to the island. Previous festivals were held on the grounds of the Kukui Grove Park and Pavilion, but after that area was converted to the current Costco store, organizers could not find a suitable location for the event.

Several options later, the Kaua‘i Veterans Center site was selected and the festival which showcases the Okinawa culture, was reborn Friday night.

“This is way past my mother’s bedtime, but she doesn’t want to go home,” said Suzette Momohara whose entire family was involved in helping the Hui Alu Okinawa club keep the event moving along.

“You should have been here Friday night,” Momohara said. “There must have been at least three times the amount of people here. Saturday nights have a lot of other events people go to, so this is still a pretty good crowd.”

Hundreds of people were drawn to the Lihu‘e festival site, attracted by the battery of Okinawa banners touting the festival as well as by the “thrump-thrump” of taiko that punctuated the lilting Okinawa melodies that wafted in the night air.

Combining recorded music as well as performances from visiting dance troupes, the familiar Okinawa melodies could be heard from Kapule Highway as cars slipped past the grounds.

For many of the festival attendees, one of the reasons to attend is the food offerings of the Okinawa culture.

These include ox tail soup, Okinawa soba, varying preparation of locally-produced pork, and the well-known andagi, or Okinawa version of the more common malasada.

Inside the Veteran’s Center, a craft fair atmosphere was punctuated by live demonstrations from the bonsai club as well as more passive exhibits of items from the Okinawa culture and lifestyle.

Gary Ueunten, one of the Hui Alu leaders, said the Okinawa Festival is an opportunity for the Okinawa people on the island to get together and showcase their heritage.

This effort also demonstrates the unity of the Okinawa community in Hawai‘i as other Hui Alu clubs from the Outer Islands come together to help the Kaua‘i chapter with the unique island celebration.

Similarly, during the Labor Day weekend, Kaua‘i members of the Hui Alu travel to O‘ahu where a statewide festival is held.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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