What is a Paniolo?

John Holi Ma'e

The official definition of the Hawaiian word Paniolo is “a person who herds cattle; cowboy.” At Paniolo Preservation Society, the word Paniolo is so steeped in Hawaiian ranching history, so much a part of who we are, that it is actually a bit daunting to attempt to sum it up in a few words!

John Holi Ma’e – Hawaiian Cowboy aka Paniolo. Photo by Dougie Davidson.

We will start with a little bit of history. In 1832, King Kamehameha III sent for help to California to teach the Hawaiians how to handle the wild cattle and to learn horsemanship. The help came in the form of three Mexican-Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) who taught the Hawaiians roping, herding, breaking and other skills. To this day, the paniolo traditions are still practiced, while remaining firmly rooted in the Mexican vaquero heritage.

Perhaps the most well-known Paniolo who first brought the story of the Paniolo to a wider audience was Ikua Purdy. Ikua, along with two fellow cowboys Archie Ka`au`a and Jack Low, traveled to Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1908. All performed exceptionally well with Ikua winning the steer roping competition in 56 seconds flat!

In 1999 Ikua Purdy was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and that same year was also inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame which was established by the Oahu Cattlemen’s Association. In 2003 the large bronze statue of Ikua Purdy roping a steer is located in front of the Parker Ranch shopping center and was commissioned by the Paniolo Preservation Society.

When you visit the Paniolo Heritage Center you will learn about the early days of ranching in Hawaii, the history of the land, the stories behind the men and women who shaped the rich cultural history Waimea is known for. We hope you can visit us soon!

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  • Paniolo-Preservation

    Our Mission

    To preserve and promote the heritage of the Hawaiian cowboy through the Paniolo Cultural Center at Pukalani Stables. The Paniolo Preservation Society celebrates the Hawaiian ranching industry and the accomplishments of the generations of paniolo that made that industry possible. Our focus is statewide and represents all cowboys from all of the Hawaiian islands. PPS is committed to increasing public awareness of the historical, present-day and future significance of Hawaii's ranching industry and the honored traditions of its paniolo.


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