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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Hawai'i cowboys celebrate local Portuguese heritage

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Cowboy entertainers get an unwelcome player at the poker table. Close to 100 cowboys and several bulls will compete in eight rodeo events this weekend.

New Town & Country Stables

. . .

Rodeo roundup

What: JN Chevrolet Hawaii Professional Rodeo

When: 5 to 9:30 p.m. today and 2 to 6:30 p.m. tomorrow

Where: New Town & Country Stables (41-1800 Kalaniana'ole Highway)

Admission: $10 in advance, $12 at the gate, free for children 4 and younger; advance tickets are available through Ticket Plus, 526-4400.

The Portuguese-style bullfighting will have to wait for next year, but this week's JN Chevrolet Hawaii Professional Rodeo, presented by the Hawai'i Council on Portuguese Heritage, should still have plenty of cultural flavor.

The rodeo will be held today and tomorrow at New Town & Country Stables in Waimanalo.

Mixed in with the full two-day schedule of riding, roping and mugging will be a full complement of Portuguese food (vinha d'alhos, anyone?) and performances by — who else? — Frank De Lima.

Organizers had hoped to stage a Portuguese-style bullfighting exhibition but couldn't work out all the logistics in time. The nonfatal (for the bull, at least) bullfight involves a dozen cowboys in hand-and-hoof battle with a fighting bull.

Nearly 100 cowboys, most from Hawai'i, are expected to compete in eight rodeo events. Based on the healthy attendance figures from this summer's Naturally Hawaiian Gallery's 4th of July All Star Rodeo, also at New Town & Country Stables, organizers said they expect about 8,000 people to attend the two-day event.

The rodeo also will feature renowned announcer Wayne Brooks of Arizona and professional rodeo clown Kevin Higley of Utah.

Proceeds from the event will go to HCPH, an umbrella office for more than a dozen Portuguese civic, cultural and business groups in Hawai'i.

Portuguese or not, participants in the rodeo have the respect of Hawai'i paniolo historian and HCPH member Erma O'Toole.

O'Toole, whose family came to Hawai'i in the 1870s from the Portuguese island of Madeira, has spent the last dozen years researching Hawai'i cowboy life, particularly within the Portuguese community.

"I have great respect for anyone who works on a ranch," said O'Toole, whose maternal and paternal relatives have included saddle makers, horse trainers and cowboys. "When I was young, we mopped the stalls and cut grass for feed. We learned to give our all, but it was nothing compared to what the cowboys did."

O'Toole said many of the people who immigrated to Hawai'i from Madeira were dairymen.

"They came to work (on the plantations) on three-year contracts," she said. "When they were done, they invested in land and dairy cattle. Usually, they had two or three other professions to support their families."

O'Toole, who conducts presentations on paniolo history and culture, said the story of Hawai'i's cowboy tradition is one of cultural diversity extending into Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and other communities.

"The Portuguese paniolo had the stamina to get up at 4 a.m., care for their own animals, work at the ranches until 6 p.m., then come home and work on their own farm," she said. "They didn't work 9 to 5. They committed themselves to doing their job, and I idolize them because they exemplified quality. I think they were a lot more honorable that a lot of people today."