All day at the Coffee Festival’s Ho’olaule’a

A Ho’olaule’a is a celebration or festival. For the 10-day coffee festival, it usually happens on the last weekend. This year I was recruited to help at the ti leaf lei making station, which Reiko has been volunteering to run for double-digit years. My creds are that I’m Reiko’s friend, and my English is better than hers. I only made my first ti leaf lei a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t too pretty. But it gave me empathy for what the newbies might be confused about or feeling.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been to the Ho’olaule’a in years past, but I never stopped at that station or paid attention (sorry, Reiko). Well, we were busy from the start, and it pretty much never let up. We were so busy, I snapped a few photos early on, and then never again. For one thing, my fingers were always a little goopy with ti leaf juice, so I didn’t want to touch my phone. We had help from one of Reiko’s friends who helped the entire time except when she performed with the taishogoto (Japanese stringed instrument) group.

I was a bit surprised how much I enjoyed being there the entire time (the event was 9am-3pm). I liked having a role that kept me busy without being stressed-out-busy. I could hear/see all the multicultural performances by being there the whole time — petite Tahitian dancer, Scottish dancers in kilts, Mexican folk dancers with the big skirts, hula, Japanese instrumental songs, taiko drummers, etc. Every once in a while Reiko or her friend would pop up and start dancing hula right at our station when they’d hear a song they know and love.

I saw many people I know from the various things I’m involved with. And Reiko knows an impressive number of people, so I was introduced to many culturally influential people. It’s a casual event where people come and go all day long. I like that locals and tourists come to events, and that the town doesn’t get consumed by or overrun with the coffee festival like it does with Ironman.

Ti leaf leis symbolize positive blessings, protection, and good luck. Yet, ti leaves aren’t scarce items; they are very common and abundant. A hula kahiko (ancient-style) dancer will often be adorned with ti leaf leis (of a more elaborate style than we were teaching) on his/her ankles, wrists, head, and neck and a ti leaf skirt. Ti leis are worn by both men and women. It has no scent and thus are good for people with allergies.

The people who tried their hands (and a toe, for most) at lei making were all very appreciative, which was gratifying. The lei is made completely of ti leaves. Not even string or a needle is required. Some people were twisting their leaves so tightly, green juice was dripping out. They were wringing out the juice. I reassured them that when you make your first lei, you’re learning the process and the materials. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try things, learn things. Once you know how to make the lei, you put in some effort, and you can create something to give someone.

Like most (all?) of the cultural stands and the performers, we volunteered our time, and there was no charge to attend or participate. The ho’olaule’a is heavy with that aloha vibe.

Beforehand Reiko had made a lei po’o (head) out of all ti leaves, some green and some yellow. It looked impressive. She put it on her head but soon took it off because it made her hot. So I wore it, along with a ti lei I had made a few days prior. So, of the three of us working the station, I looked like I was the kumu (teacher), but I barely knew what I was doing. But I was surprised how many people I was able to teach. You only have to know more than the ones who want to learn and be encouraging.

I hadn’t considered it ahead of time, but it was an opportunity for me to just hang out with my two kumu. When they weren’t actively teaching people, they’d just make leis and fancier ti leis and adornments, to show people what’s possible. So I could observe and try other techniques when I had down time. Down time rarely lasted. When you’re doing something, people come and watch, and then they want to try, and you have new students again.

Reiko had to leave early because she had made plans to go to Volcano. She took the lei po’o off my head so she could offer that and other leis to Pele, the Volcano Goddess.

That’s a good transition for the last topic for today’s post … Mauna Loa. The previous weekend, a few hours before the event, I learned that the County of Hawaii Civil Defense was giving a community talk at Konawaena Elementary School about potential Mauna Loa eruptions. I don’t know why something so important wasn’t better publicized. I had read that Ocean View seemed to be caught off guard when the talk in their area was held, too. I’m surprised the Civil Defense didn’t announce it in the local paper’s events section. Many things are mysterious to me.

It’s a good thing that talks are being held, because we have to be mentally and practically prepared for the eventuality of an eruption. To be clear, Mauna Loa is not erupting or imminently about to erupt, despite the impression the mainland media was giving.

Hubby went to the talk while I was at the Donkey Mill Arts Center learning crafts. He learned about this USGS map titled, “Mauna Loa eruption response times.” We’re in Honalo, the northern part of that red “South Kona” box (but technically we’re in the southern part of the North Kona District). That blue line there indicates the border where the Mauna Loa and the Hualālai slopes are. We are located just north of that line, on the east/mauka (mountain) road north of that intersection. We were surprised to realize just how close we are to the Mauna Loa slope.

My aunty said the last time Mauna Loa erupted, the lava reached the ocean pretty quickly. Her father was fishing in South Kona and got cut off from returning home. He had to drive south, get gas at Na’alehu (the southernmost town in the U.S.), so that he could drive completely around the island to return home.

Apparently dynamite and bombs have been used in the past, or seriously considered, to divert lava flows. I found this New York Times article from 2020 about this topic, “The Army Bombed a Hawaiian Lava Flow. It Didn’t Work.” I know you all might not be able to read that, but you can search on diverting lava flows by bombing. It’ll bring up some interesting pieces.

We wonder if we’ll see Mauna Loa erupt in our lifetimes. And what will its impact be? On this island, you always have situations where you’re made aware that you, personally and humankind in general, only control so much. And there’s strong sentiment for letting Nature take its course, as Madame Pele wills.

Imua! The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Begins

Today’s Hawaiian word of the day: imua. To go or move forward, with strength, purpose, and spirit. The 10-day Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, unleashed from COVID, started Friday, and it has been more fun than I expected. It was a bit dreary and drizzly up in the coffee belt, and inertia was pulling hard. I wanted to go to the evening’s Lantern Parade, but I didn’t want to deal with parking, maybe it was going to rain, excuses excuses.

But we got our ‘ōkoles (butts) in gear and went. We even marched IN the parade. That contributed to inertia since we had to be there one hour before the parade. I definitely thought of my cousin, who was a grand marshal in the Fourth of July parade. But unlike her, we weren’t in a position of honor, just taking part.

It was fun! We marched with Daifukuji, meaning The Temple of Great Happiness, in Honalo, less than a mile away from our farm. Most of our group were the taiko youth drummers and their parents/supporters. It is fantastic to march with the drummers. It’s uplifting, exciting energy, and you could feel the spectators’ enthusiasm as we went by. (Unfortunately, my little video from the start doesn’t capture the best). The parade route was really short, what we usually walk if we go to breakfast after swimming at the Kailua pier. One and a half hour wait; 10-15 minute walk.

Hubby and I ate dinner near the parade end, then went into Hale Halawai to watch the entertainment. Each group seemed to get 15-20 minutes, so it just kept moving along. We walked in when a different group of taiko drummers were playing bon dance songs. What I really love about bon dances is that people of all ages just jump in and dance along. Some of the Daifukuji taiko drummers were dancing, seniors, the beauty queens wearing their crowns, young children, etc. Some of the songs are more classical Japanese bon dance songs, and some are more modern like Bruno Mars (he’s from Hawai’i; my grand marshal cousin was his kindergarten teacher).

One of the local high schools, Kealakehe, has a large Polynesian club. They were injecting a lot of energy before, during, and after the parade. Every time I see them perform, I am so impressed. Just watching them all, maybe 100?, file in already impressed me. I like that they don’t have flashy, matchy-matchy outfits. They have the black club t-shirt, and everyone has a pareo (sarong) on. This little video clip is just the first bit they did after filing in, before their real performance. The speed, energy, preciseness with that amount of students. Whoa!! I suspect I’ll be seeing them perform again on the weekend at the Ho’olaule’a, when I’ll be volunteering at the ti leaf lei making stand. (I feel very unconfident, but Reiko says I don’t have to worry, I can just do crowd control and my English is better than hers. Ha ha!)

That was just Friday evening. Saturday morning, I packed a lot in. It was the Holualoa Coffee and Art Stroll, where you can taste different vendors’ coffee, look at art, and visit the various vendors with food and goods. As soon as we arrived, we got a friendly shout from across the road, “How were the grapefruits?” It was the lady we met at dinner the night before who had a big bag of limes and Ruby Red grapefruits she was handing out to any customer or employee who’d take them. Those of us with fruit trees are familiar with the “problem.” Don’t want good fruit to go to waste.

I’ve noticed the coffee vendors are becoming more sophisticated. There were more making fresh pourover coffee into their pump pots (vs. just making a big machine-brewed batch ahead of time). Some of the different tastings were of different processes (honey processed vs. washed), beyond just medium or dark roast. I appreciated one farm that had an informational poster with the location of their farm, their elevation, how they process, the types of trees they have, etc. I did hear a few vendors who said they didn’t have any coffee to sell, on-hand or online, because of this year’s extremely low harvest. They had saved some coffee to have available for this tasting event, but they didn’t have any more.

We only had a measly half hour to briskly walk through, no stroll, for us. I had signed up for two classes at the Donkey Mill Art Center, part of the cultural events in the Kona Coffee *Cultural* Festival. One was ‘olena (turmeric) dyeing a Japanese hand towel. The other was for making a lei po’o (head). I’ll let the photo gallery explain.

The one coffee and food vendor at Donkey Mill was also pretty sophisticated. For food, he had four or five different types of musubi that he and his wife had made. For coffee, he made it to order and had his Fellow kettle, Fellow grinder, and Hario pourover kit. Kona coffee is not Folgers and needs to be properly showcased. That coffee vendor is also almost sold out of coffee beans for the year. (NPR aired an interesting piece the other day, “Folgers, a throwback brand in the age of nitro lattes, wants to be cool.“) I’ve shared it before; Grandpa used to drink Folgers, not Kona coffee (too expensive).

Mana, Ironman World Championship 2022, and Leis

In Hawaiian mythology mana is a spiritual energy and healing power which can exist in places, objects and persons. Hawaiians believe that mana may be gained or lost by actions, and that mana is both external and internal. (Edited from Wikipedia)

Indulge me today for more of a personal, cultural, local flavor piece, which only very loosely relates to coffee. Maybe these types of posts are more interesting to you than coffee nerd posts anyway.

A few weeks ago Reiko asked me to join her on November 12 at the Ho’olaule’a for the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, a 10-day affair first held in 1970. She’s going to be teaching how to make ti leaf leis, and she wants me to help since I speak English. I said, “But I don’t know how to make ti leaf leis.” She said I can learn.

With the Ironman World Championship finally returning after its COVID-19 hiatus, I thought this would be a good time to learn. I could make some ti leaf leis for some friend finishers. It is a different event this year. It was huge, with over double the number of athletes as previous years and two days of racing. I’ve heard a lot of (justified) grumbling.

For example, the guy who cuts hubby’s hair, located in town, had to shut down both race days, as well as many other businesses impacted by road closures, some of them as long as 6:30am-1:30am (19 hours). And two large parking lots that had always been public and free, became paid parking lots, shortly before the race. $15/hour! This really rankled. Even the business owners that are there don’t get to park there. Luckily, race week corresponds with the public schools’ fall break.

I won’t get into all the arguments for and against holding Ironman here. I get the sense there’s a strong local sentiment that the championships have outgrown their venue, and the community is exhausted hosting. Someone else host the party now.

This race depends on volunteers. And many of the volunteers are found in local clubs and groups. Your organization supplies the volunteers for some task, you all bond by working together, then later Ironman donates some amount to the organization. For example, my cousins in the Lions Club manned the Special Needs bag distribution on the run course. Hubby and I (not as part of any organization) did various volunteer jobs before the races and on the first race day.

I met a couple from Luxembourg (the lady hails from Japan) who are not athletes. Many years ago after marrying on another Hawaiian island, they made their first trip to the Big Island on what happened to be race week. Someone asked them to volunteer, and they asked if it was OK if they weren’t racing (yes!!). They loved the experience so much, for years they have been flying here (this year for two weeks) every year to volunteer. Wow.

Reiko, hubby, and I volunteered as Finish Line catchers. A volunteer gives each finisher a kukui nut lei, and two other volunteers give an athlete a towel and guide them back to the post-race area. At first it was a little slow since it was mostly only pros finishing at the start of our 4-hour shift. Reiko spotted legendary Aunty Mele at the finish line area, wearing a green volunteer shirt (a higher status volunteer). She was there already by 4:00 or so for her main job of singing Hawai’i Aloha at 12:30am! I saw a photo of her at the finish line singing with retiring Ironman announcer Mike Reilly. What endurance! I read in the Ke Ola article I linked to that she was an Ironman volunteer coordinator for 32 years. Reiko sang and danced for Aunty Mele before our work finally began.

After Race Day 1, I wanted to get started on the leis I intended to give some athletes before their banquet on Sunday. There’s a strong culture of giving and appreciation here. I often find it a delightful surprise when I’m bestowed with a lei. And although ti leaves are found all over here, they can be transformed into a gift. I like the idea of dedicating your efforts to someone else. You think of that person and why you’re making the lei. Ti leis have mana.

You do have to first prepare the ti leaves so that they’re pliable and twistable. I won’t give instructions here. There are many ways to make these leis. I like learning in-person. Reiko demonstrated and described, but encouraged me to just try things so I could learn and make my own mistakes, e.g., what happens if you use a too-young leaf. Mistakes were made, some lessons learned. I was initially planning to make the leis a few days beforehand and store them in the fridge. Reiko felt very strongly that leis need to be made on the day of gifting. It’s not uncommon that she gets up before the sun’s out to harvest leaves and make a lei to give in the morning.

So instead of making more ti leis, the day after learning about ti leaf leis, I made some bougainvillea leis (that I already knew how to do). It was a pleasure to give four bougainvillea and three ti leis (some were Reiko’s demonstration ones) to seven local first-time Ironman finishers at a community event at the pool the day after the second race. Their surprise and delight was a gift to me.

This year was a particularly special race for Rune and me. Two Norwegians, in their debut Kona races, and only the second Ironman-distance race for both of them, got first (and a new course record) and third.

Back in 2012 Rune wanted to race on Team Norway for the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Championship race in Auckland, New Zealand. Winter sports are Norway’s thing, not triathlon. The Norwegian Triathlon Federation was just beginning to focus on cultivating triathletes, particularly their junior athletes. They wouldn’t financially support the “age group” triathletes like Rune, but with some minor requirements, they let Rune be on the team. Team Norway was three juniors and two age groupers that year. Rune also raced on Team Norway in London in 2013, a larger team since more Norwegians wanted to participate. Then he switched to Team USA for Edmonton, Canada in 2014.

It has been great fun to watch the fruits of the Federation’s labor. Blummenfelt won gold at the Olympics last year and won the 2021 Ironman World Championships held at St. George, Utah (because of COVID-19 and Hawaii’s situation). And now Gustav Iden won Ironman Kona and is seeking his Olympic gold. It’s a lot of fun to look back at this old photo and see these now very famous athletes in their younger days. Heia Norge!

Poi dog grandson communes with our lychee tree

Over four years ago I met a woman on the plane from Kona to San Jose, CA. We immediately hit it off and chatted the entire flight. I bet you’re immediately thinking of an annoying chatterbox you’ve found yourself seated next to on a plane, and think she or I are that person. Ha ha! Some people you just click with. And sometimes you might meet such a person on a plane ride. I know someone who met a special lady on the plane who would become his wife of over 50 years. Anyway, my plane friend and I have stayed connected through occasional emails and one Open Studios visit (her husband handcrafts fine wood furniture). She has sent her friend to visit our farm. She subscribes to our coffee, wanting to support a family farm, since her family has a generational California farm. I’ve invited her to write about her family’s CA farm on my blog. Maybe some day …

She and some of her family members came to visit our farm just recently. Her young adult grandson, when he saw our huge lychee tree, was super excited to climb into it. We made him learn a little about coffee, mac nuts, bananas, papayas and avocados before we set him loose on the lychee. Good thing, too. He asked if the green fruit pictured above were avocados. He’s from the East Coast, and not from a farm. [Aside: Bea said my dad thought they were bell peppers the first time he visited in the 60’s, before there were any traffic lights on the west side of the island]. When he finally got to the highlight for him, the lychee tree, he quickly clambered up, and then he just sat there in the shade looking so content. He had new appreciation for how hard it is to get the fruit sitting on the top of the umbrella. He understood that you have to cut/prune the branches that have the fruit, but from inside the tree you can’t easily see which branches eventually end in fruit. So he just sat and enjoyed being in the tree.

It was his first trip to Hawai’i, and I think he had only been on-island for maybe two days at that point, but he already LOVED it and wanted to someday live here. I got the impression that he felt he belonged here, that he had never been around so many people that looked like him. I describe it as a “poi dog” look, all mixed up. I felt like he found his multiethnic tribe or something. I don’t really know him, though, maybe he’s super enthusiastic about everything. Regardless, being around a positive, enthusiastic person is fun.

On another note, every Monday the local paper, West Hawaii Today, publishes a photo from the Kona Historical Society titled, “Can You Help Identify This Photo?”

It wasn’t long ago that I read the book Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall, the author who wrote Born to Run. It introduced me to this completely alternative world of donkey racing I had no idea existed. It was such a fun read.

With the above photo, I realized Kona used to have its own donkey race! It was the FIFTH annual race back in 1987. I put some decent effort into finding out more, but I haven’t yet found the right knowledgable person. I contacted the Kona Historical Society person in the ad, and the person there who cares for their own Nightingales (donkeys) who circled me back to the KHS person in the ad, a grizzly runner/run organizer who put me in touch with the photographer, Uncle Harold (UH), etc. I still have to ask “Jon Kunitake the Great” (he introduced himself to me that way), former professional jockey, one of the founders of the Kona Marathon, and coffee farmer.

A week or two later this same ad feature in the paper identified the runner in the photo as Jim Gannon, and the donkey’s name as Jacob. I had also learned that the races were part of the Kona Coffee Festival. Gannon’s shirt says Isbell, which could relate to Virginia Isbell, who was a former prominent politician, public servant and pillar of the Kona community.

Our grandparents used to have a donkey to help with the farm. Caring for it was one of UH’s chores. When I asked him about his donkey duties, he replied,

“My donkey duty was to put him in an enclosure in a pasture after the work day.
I saddled and unsaddled him.  The donkey carried about 200 pounds of cherry coffee to kuriba [pulping location].
Donkeys were easier to load up than mules for us shorties.
A few early marketers circa 1980 labeled packaged coffee such as ‘bad ass’ or ‘donkey balls.’
That was very insulting to the Kona Nightingale.”

Ha ha! Terse and to the point, ending with a little UH humor.

These articles contain more info about Kona Nightingales:

Saving the Kona Nightingale (back in 2011, Keola Magazine)

Kona Nightingale Program (Kona Historical Society)

Kona Nightingale Gals 1953 (Kona Historical Society)

The Old Man and His Mango Tree

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced frequent bouts of sleeplessness, up to two hours or so. I wake up for whatever reason, nothing seems to be on my mind, and then gradually I start thinking, and soon I just can’t fall back asleep. Sometimes I wake and I can just sense that it’s going to be difficult to return to sleep. Then one day during meditation, I realized my dad’s death anniversary is coming up. I believe the problems sleeping are my body’s way of communicating to my conscious, aware self. I miss Dad. What turned out to be his last months were emotionally taxing. I believe the body remembers. After my conscious mind came up with this reason for restless sleeping, I’ve been sleeping soundly again.

It’s obon season, the time when the ancestors are honored, briefly explained in that Hawaiian Airlines link. I should go to the “mini” bon service at the local temple, Daifukuji, next weekend. Daifukuji’s bon festival is normally held at the parking lot near Longs at the Keauhou shopping center. You’d see all kinds of people from the community. The bon festivals all came to a screeching halt with COVID, and they’re slowly, cautiously returning, thus the “mini.” Cemetery blessing, taiko drums, dancing, etc. My great grandparents are buried at the cemetery there. I didn’t realize until this past decade. The marker is all in Japanese, which I can’t read or write.

Over decades I’ve been to two different Japanese temples in California during obon season, one in southern, one in northern California. It wasn’t part of what we did as a family, and I didn’t know people at those celebrations in those communities. From what I understand obon is celebrated differently on the mainland, in Japan, and in Hawai’i.

Here the festival season starts in June and ends in mid-September, with most islands having a bon dance every weekend.  Some temple somewhere is having its bon dance. It’s like a social circuit. When I went to a Bat Mitzvah party it reminded me of obon because I haven’t been to many large celebrations attended by a large community, where people of all ages and generations dance together.

I’ve been to more bon dance and celebrations here on the Big Island than anywhere else. Dancing is like Japanese line dancing, but going around in a large circle. If you don’t want to be totally lost, classes are held in the weeks prior. Some temple somewhere probably has classes. My cousin enjoyed going and would invite us to classes; her brother, who didn’t want to dance, preferred to catch on video those moments when we’d turn or not turn and be going around the circle the wrong way. If you’re going around a circle and others are facing you … you’re going the wrong way.

Changing subjects, but somewhat linked in my mind at least … I was surprised by and appreciated the poetic writing in this recent article in the New York Times, “‘Mango Man’ Is the Fruit’s Foremost Poet, Philosopher, Fan and Scientist.” I put in the link in case you have a subscription or are able to otherwise access it. He’s an Indian man, Bea’s age. Mangoes are UH’s retirement passion. Bea met Dad via UH, thus I came into being.

“Theirs is a friendship of over half a century, the old man and his mango tree.

His days, spent with a monk-like contentment knowing that each could be his last, are now largely reduced to the tree’s shade and the tree’s care.

The tree, at least 120 years old, was there long before Kaleem Ullah Khan, 82, first came to this field in Malihabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. And it will be there long after he is gone.

But Mr. Khan has spent a lifetime grafting hundreds of different kinds of mango onto this mother tree — and by doing so, he has grafted his own life story onto it as well.”

Mom was growing a Kent mango tree in Southern California. After several years when that tree finally had its very first two mangoes (in 2012) and Mom was excited, Dad touched one from below with his palm and sort of weighed it. It fell off. Then there was one (pictured). Mango stems are strong, but they’re brittle. If you poke at the fruit from below, they might break (a good feature for intentional picking or getting a high-up fruit by throwing a water bottle). Mom was pretty angry.

A few years later, in his last days, Dad was lying on a hospital bed on the ground floor of their two story home. Mom made sure he had a view of the compact backyard with all her plant and tree babies, including that mango tree.

Here in Hawai’i state, there are apparently over 500 mango varieties growing. We have a dwarf Julie growing in the ground; we haven’t yet had fruit and we’ve never knowingly tried it, e.g., from the farmers market or from friends/family. We bought it, trusting in hubby’s mango research. He’s like a research pit bull, bites and won’t let go. (No offense meant to pit bulls).

We have tried the Rapoza variety, and we bought it as soon as we once saw one at Home Depot, but it’s still in the pot in our courtyard. We’re not ready to subject it to pig abuse. When we bought it, it had many blossoms which became fruit. We removed all the fruit but one, so the tree could focus on its growth rather than its fruit. After we try this fruit, we’ll brave it and plant the tree out in the coffee land in our volcanic soil, with some pig protection surrounding it.

I’ll close with another excerpt from the New York Times Mango Man article:

Mr. Khan’s view of the mango — that we are all fleeting, but that the fruit is almost eternal — embodies the passion for it found across much of India. 

“We come, we eat mangoes, and we leave the world,” Mr. Khan said. “But as long as the world is there, this fruit will be there.”