Celebrating community festivals

A recent e-mail message from a cousin who lives in Canada told how his family celebrated the Harvest Festival together. We were still looking ahead to Halloween, and then the weeks until Thanksgiving, the American pilgrim’s harvest festival translated Hawaiian style. I had just written to this green-thumb cousin about my weekend experience at my favorite non-competitive hula event, the Emalani Festival held in the green meadow of Kokee annually to honor Queen Emma’s historic trek up the mountains in search of forest and swamp views and plants. Also, I’d had that word “festival” pop out at me several times as I read our local news detailing the Princess Kai‘ulani Keiki Fest, the recent Canoe Plants Festival and the Kauai Chocolate and Coffee Festival.

I decided to look up “festival.” According to the Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus, it means, (1) a day or period of celebration, religious or secular; (2) a series of cultural events. Synonyms are: holiday holy day, fete, fiesta, feast, carnival.

I had guessed at the feast aspect from the sound of the word, and “festival” definitely derives from that root meaning. But besides harvest festivals and other festivals associated with eating and feasting (another set of examples, our Coconut and Taro Festivals), we have had Poetry Fests (for short), and going with the cultural aspects, the Aloha and Mokihana Festivals, and even our winter-to-spring E Kanikapila Kakou music and singing program, which could be considered a festival, as well as August’s annual Tahitian Heiva.

Over the years, I’ve made friends with regular visitors who come for a stay on Kauai annually to take part in E Kanikapila, and the Emalani and Coconut Festivals. I’m sure each reader has had a similar experience with its own set of particulars. One family friend was oh-so-disappointed that her visit was just a tad early for the Japanese heritage Matsuuri Festival this year.

However, some years ago, other friends of the family and family members were thrilled to experience the summer O-Bon Festivals and the prayerful launchings of the lighted boats for the ancestors from Kukuiula Harbor, a truly unexpected and moving set of experiences for them. When my younger granddaughter arrived from Colorado to celebrate her 6th birthday, her flight landed just hours before our island’s Christmas festivities launched. The down-home “Lights on Rice Street” parade was her entry to this island and put stars in her eyes.

The strength of these locally celebrated gala times is the sense of community that occurs as we gather to share in the experience of each celebration, whether it’s a religious or secular occasion or based on ethnic foods, senior talents, art and craft, books, poetry, music, film or just getting together in a home town on a first Friday or Saturday “fair” night.

That feeling of belonging, being part of the living, breathing whole of humans who are joining together for a distinct purpose at a given time, is like a joyful prayer that spreads like life-giving water back into our Kauai community, nourishing young and old, alike. The fact that the bonding together comes with a feeling of fun or gladness, if not reverence, and without the purpose of work, or winning and achieving, satisfies deep human thirst for soulful satisfaction and joy.

Remembering my own introduction to this isle a few weeks before Hurricane Iwa hit, it was right at Halloween. My pre-teen son had grown a pumpkin to decent jack-o-lantern size and was darned if he was going to let it rot back in our Denver garden.

Without knowing the strict agricultural rules, we gave it no thought as he hoisted it off the plane in his backpack. (It may have appeared that he was carrying a soccer ball?) It was scooped and carved into an appropriate goblin face and lit in the little vacation cottage that hung in 1982 mid-way along the cliffside of Kalapaki Bay. We may even have roasted the salt-water soaked pumpkin seeds to snack on, an annual tradition.

What I remember for certain, is Jason’s face as he hopped back into the car we were renting after his twilight trick-or-treat adventure up and down Umi Street in Lihue. “Mom, Dad … This man came to the door and bowed. He bowed! And look what he gave me.” He fished a neat little package out of his bag. It was tied in tissue with raffia and divulged contents of several candies and small bars. This may not seem unusual here, but it was different from the casually tossed in lollipop, candy bar or gum package that is the Mainland norm — and the polite Japanese bow during the presentation was a wonderful example of a memorable cultural difference. “Wow!” was all I could say then. That’s all I can still think to say after being fully acquainted with the kindness and hospitality of local folks.

Now, I won’t be bowing to all the little “Frozen” princesses, superheroes, and bums and witches that call at our door. And my offerings won’t be specially wrapped and tied (now that home-made popcorn balls are “out”), but I will be feeling a great sense of community with and aloha toward all the costumed kiddies that come along. They are more interested in having their get-ups admired than in getting a treat and don’t seem to have pranks and tricks in mind. If you’re under 12 and in my neighborhood, just watch for the aunty wearing the Burger King crown who lives behind the green door. Happy Halloween.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai over 30 years ago. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live quietly with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and through Amazon. The “Green Flash” column she pens appears every other Monday in TGI.


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