The story of the paniolo
In 1793, King Kamehameha was gifted with five longhorns who directed him to place a kappa (protection) over the cattle, allowing them to roam and multiply. Little did he know it would lead to a booming beef trade and a high demand for ranchers in Hawaii. Because of this, vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys, arrived on the Big Island and Maui to teach the locals how to corral. Thus began the culture of the Hawaiian cowboy, known to us now as the paniolo.
The world “paniolo” allegedly comes from the Hawaiian version of the word “español,” as the Hawaiian language doesn’t use the “s” sound. A cross between Mexican and Hawaiian cultures, the paniolo had a key role in society: providing a large source of income and trade for the islands. Songs were even dedicated to them in which their Mexican-inspired ponchos, wide-brimmed hats, and affinity for the guitar were admired. But, times have changed since then. Today, the upcountry population of ranchers is quickly dwindling, along with the culture.