A blast from the plantation past

KAPAA — A sign, left over from the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life earlier in the year, sat to the side of taiko drummers in the courtyard of the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital.

“Don’t You Forget About Me,” its message told the crowd that filled the courtyard and outer lobby area of the hospital in Kapaa Thursday as the piercing strains of taiko fought the blackness of night.

“Judge Trudy Senda, who sang the iwakuni ondo, said, ‘You know what’s special about the Mahelona bon dance?’” said Josie Pablo, the Mahelona Hospital recreation director who coordinated the annual gathering. “‘There are residents positioned around the ring, and when you dance, you see their faces. They’re all smiling. It just melts my heart.’ This bon dance is all for the residents.”

The seniors at Mahelona Hospital include many who grew up with the popular community event which grew from the traditional custom brought over by Japanese people who came to Hawaii to labor in the plantations.

“A lot of these residents miss the bon dance, and they are not able to get to them,” Pablo said. “So, we brought the bon dance to the residents.”

Among the many people who enjoyed the event were visitors from Ishigaki High School, who were spending their first night on Kauai after arriving Thursday morning.

“This is very fun,” said Miho Nakagawa, who was enjoying a fried ice cream with her host, Mikela Puig of Kapaa High School. “We haven’t gone to school yet, but we got to meet Mr. William Arakaki, who was a very nice man. We don’t have bon dance in Ishigaki so this is the first time I got to dance.”

Brian Yamamoto and Shar Ono, both of Kauai Community College, were chaperoning 17 students from the Okinawa Prefectural College of Nursing who arrived Sunday for a two-week educational tour.

“We moved the bon dance date when we found out when the students were coming,” Pablo said. “They loved the event so we just made the change to accommodate them. They will also be helping when we take our residents to the beach Tuesday.”

Yamamoto said the Okinawa students enjoy the bon dance because there are fewer and fewer bon dances in Okinawa. The tradition is being replaced by Eisa dancing.

Pablo also added new items to this year’s event, such as the Mahelona Emergency Room offering a variety of baked goods for sale along with Pronto Pups and Andagi. The goodies sold out well before the 8 p.m. close.

Joining the food, Arnold Leong had two doctors joining his corps of food preparers working on flying saucers. Flavors included meat, apple with cream cheese, azuki bean and lilikoi cotton candy.

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