‘A gathering of nations’

KAPAA — When Anne Punohu first moved to Hawaii nearly 35 years ago at the age of 19, she knew very little about her Seminole heritage beyond what she was told by her foster mother and father in California.

But all of that changed about 14 years ago, when the now 52-year-old Kapaa resident decided to attend the Kauai Powwow for the first time.

“For the longest time, I wasn’t able to talk about it,” Punohu said in between dances during the Kauai Powwow on Saturday. “But during the powwow’s second year, I met Wilma Mankiller, and after that, I received a lot of encouragement to dance and it was very slow for me because I didn’t know about regalia or protocols, but I learned over the years.”

And, now, Punohu along with dozens of others come to the Kauai Powwow every year, so that they can share their culture in ways that they know how — through song, dance and regalia.

The Kauai Powwow, now in its 15th year, included more than a dozen individual events honoring several different tribes, including a series of hula performances from Tamatea Nui O Kauai and a taiko performance from John Dumas and “Joyful Noise Taiko Drummers” with Aki Conquest.

Kauai Powwow Council President Ka-ni Blackwell — or Dr. B, as she prefers to be called — explained that a powwow “is a gathering of nations.”

“If everyone is from a certain nation, a powwow is a gathering time to celebrate our culture and that’s why there’s songs, dances and certain protocols that happen during that time,” Blackwell said. “We’re really excited to have everyone come, join in, dance and sing with us.”

In all, Blackwell said she is expecting at least 5,000 people to visit the three-day event, which ends today.

The attendance numbers from the event’s opening day on Friday, attracted a total of 800 people this year, including 42 international visitors — a significant jump from the nearly 500 people who attended last year’s opening day, Blackwell said.

“We want to have it for our local community that can appreciate it, and this is the only chance that I get to celebrate my culture,” Blackwell said. “That’s good for us to be able to do but we also share it with Hawaiians and other cultures. We have so many people from the Mainland who told me, ‘Next year, we’re planning our vacation around your powwow,’ and I think that’s awesome to be able to accommodate our visitors, so they can have this entertainment.”  

Among those visitors this year were 40 members of the Brona Band of Mission Indians in Lakeside, Calif., who spent a week on Maui before traveling to Kauai for the Kauai Powwow, where they were recognized as special guests on Saturday.

Wailua resident Christina Atkinson said the three-day event was a great way to help her introduce her daughter, Rilynn Milczarski, to another culture.

“It introduces us to a different kind of culture than what we’re surrounded with every day, especially since it’s a remote island, too,” Atkinson said. “It’s a great way for me to introduce my daughter to something that is not as mainstream as the Hawaiian culture, and I really appreciate that.”

Koloa resident Kaplan Bunce, of the Apache tribe, said he was born and raised in Washington state but had never been to a powwow until he began he began participating in the Kauai Powwow several years ago.  

The event, he explained, is important because it helps to perpetuate and generate more interest in important customs and cultural practices.

“It’s important to me because our culture is disappearing,” Bunce said. “It’s up to us, our generation, to keep our traditions and our cultures going and show our children how this way is.”

For more information, contact Blackwell at kauaipowow@gmail.com.

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com

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