By Lee Cataluna
Claude Ortiz has been riding, roping and herding for more than 70 years. He makes saddles, trains horses, takes care of vast areas of pastures and riding trails. Just don't call him a paniolo. He'll go off.
"People say that word, and they don't know what it means," says Ortiz, who turns 82 in December, and still rides.
His passionate dislike for the word "paniolo" goes back 40 years, to a time when he made the mistake of using it in front of a trio of old-time Hawaiian cowboys.
"We were driving cattle in Kahuku and these three old-timers from Parker Ranch were driving with us, and I said, "Here comes the three old paniolos!" And this old man came up to me and said, "Kulikuli!" and he kicked me off my horse. And I told him, "Eh, why you kick me off my horse?" And he said, "You said a bad Hawaiian word." I said, "All I said was 'paniolo.' " He said, "Do you know what that means?"
The old-timer explained that the proper term is "paniola," from the word "espaola," meaning Spanish. Paniolo, Ortiz was told, was something pretty dirty. An insult. Suffice it to say that "pani" means to grab, and "paniolo" means to grab something that shouldn't be grabbed.
Ortiz believes that a non-Native speaker of Hawaiian who was working on a Hawaiian-English dictionary started the whole thing, changing the "a" to an "o" because of Spanish-language rules for feminine and masculine words. The Pukui and Elbert dictionary lists both spellings, adding that "paniola" is a late variation.
However, Danny Akaka Jr., a Waimea historian and Hawaiian cultural expert, says Parker Ranch old-timers have told him the original word was indeed "paniola."
Ortiz has done lectures and presentations, even toured the Mainland with a book about Hawaiian cowboys in which he was featured. But he feels it's a losing battle.
"I try to tell people, but a lot of guys say, 'But it's in the books!' So I gotta tell them all over the story of what happened and all that. And some of them get convinced, and some of them say, 'Nah, as long as it's in the book, I gotta say 'paniolo.' But the old folks hate that word.
When Ortiz gets to arguing his point, he's pretty tough. After all, this is from a man who has had 52 fractures, including both knees; and injuries including losing several fingers to roping accidents and being paralyzed for two years after being thrown from a "bad stallion" he was trying to train.
But no incident stung like being kicked off his horse by an old-timer for saying the wrong thing. That lesson stuck for life.
"Since I got kicked off my horse for saying that word, until I die, I know what that word will be," Ortiz says. "And it's PANIOLA."
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honolulu advertiser.com