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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

Couple perpetuate tradition of pa'u riders

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Lois Miyashiro gets draped in pa'u attire with the help of Lita Lowea Carrillo Cook, co-founder of the Hawai'i Pa'u Riders group. Miyashiro's mother, Gilda, also was at the fitting in Waimanalo. Cook will give a pa'u lecture Sunday.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

WAIMANALO — Lois Miyashiro stands perfectly still, feet apart, hands outstretched and each holding three kukui nuts as Lita Lowea Carrillo Cook skillfully wraps and drapes a 12-yard pa'u skirt around Miyashiro's waist. Repeating a practice that goes back more than 100 years, Cook is fashioning culottes by using the nuts to hold everything in place, and one wrong move could cause the whole outfit to fall off.

"If you stretch the hands way up, the nuts going come off if it's not secured tight," said Cook, a veteran of the tradition of pa'u riding in which women adorned in elaborate lei ride on horseback draped in 10 to 16 yards of luxurious fabric flowing almost to the ground.

The tradition dates to the 1800s when ranch women used yards of material as a simple dust cover to protect their finer clothing while riding on horseback to a party or ball. Today the pa'u rider is an integral part of parades such as the King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade and the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade.

The tradition typically has been passed on from rider to rider, but two decades ago, Cook and her husband, John, created the Hawai'i Pa'u Riders, an organization dedicated to perpetuating pa'u. This weekend she will take the unusual step of lecturing about what it takes to become a pa'u rider. The event will be from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday at Naturally Hawaiian Gallery and Gifts, 41-1025 Kalaniana'ole Highway in Waimanalo.

"To me you should keep it alive because it's part of our heritage," said Cook, 64, and of Hawaiian-Spanish descent. "That's our kupuna. If we don't, it's going to die."

Pa'u riding is more than knowing how to put on the skirt, said Cook, equestrian co-chairwoman for the Aloha parade. It incorporates riding and lei-making ability, and being able to ride a horse is still the most important aspect.

Women will spend up to a week making the lei for their event, including one for the horse that is about 58 inches long and 10 inches wide. Flowers are either purchased or gathered by the riders. Cook said during the year she holds classes for the lei making and the pa'u wrapping and then the week before the parade, everyone in her unit comes out to her Waimanalo ranch to make the lei.

A pa'u unit can spend from $3,000 to $10,000 on a parade, including purchase of flowers, renting a horse, hair styling and makeup, said Keahi Allen, who served on the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission for 29 years. The horse alone can run $300 to $500 to rent for the parade, but riders also must rent the horse for practices. Many cover the expenses by fund-raising.

Before retiring in March, Allen said she helped train and recruit women to ride and knows that more women would be involved in pa'u riding if it wasn't so expensive.

"I think if anything causes the demise of pa'u riding it will be the cost factor, especially for the rental of the horse," Allen said.

The Cooks own their own horses and have been avid riders most of their lives. The horses and parades, including 29 on the Mainland, have taken them to many places.

John Cook, 73, said he's had fun at every parade but the biggest thrill was at the Rose Parade when people kept calling out his name and giving his group a standing ovation. Then all the work is worth it, John Cook said.

"When the crowd acknowledges you, you get the feeling you're a big movie star," he said with a laugh. "There's nothing like when you're in a parade."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.