Last weekend we attended the 11th Annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditional foods. Almost everything at the event supported the theme. They made a point of focusing on the original 27 “canoe plants” known to have come with the early Polynesian immigrants to the islands. The first Hawaiians chose those plants carefully for the great value each provided as food, oil for light and fiber for clothing. This thematic event landed particularly well because the coordinators so carefully keep the booths and activities closely aligned with “grow Hawaiian.”
One booth invited visitors to make poi from kalo (taro) or ulu (breadfruit) by pounding it on a papa kui ai (wooden board with a trough shape) using a pohaku kui ai (stone pounder). People of all ages were trying the traditional Hawaiian method of preparation to make a smooth starch poi and each one could take home the resulting creation in ziplock bags. The gardens show the kalo growing so visitors make the connection between the food and the plant.
The lunch served at the event was a traditional plate lunch with Kalua pork and cabbage or lomilomi salmon along with macaroni salad, poi or rice and a tomato salad for $10, including the beverage. It was delicious, cooked and served by local families.
I watched many parents of children using a cell phone to take a video of their child learning hands-on lessons on lauhala (pandanus fiber) weaving or making poi. The focus of the event is learning by doing and selling items is not permitted until the event has concluded at 2:30 PM. This well-planned and attended event will bring us back year after year.
The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of festivals year-round. The climate, scenery, culture and tourism make it profitable and useful to create outdoor events that tell a story, but some tell their story better than others. We have written about the Chocolate Festival and Coffee Festival in the past because they exemplify the power of thematic events to tell community stories.
We have also attended recent agricultural festivals where the thematic identity was present in name only. The many artisan booths could have been set up at any marketplace to sell their wares. They are festivals in name only and do nothing for the community or branding of the host site.
Non-thematic events are not bad. They simply lack the personality that a thematic identity brings to the table. They are not very engaging for the community or the attendees except as economic events. Themes deliver a message, a reason to connect with the idea behind the festival.
Thematic events that match your natural and cultural history help in branding your organization and community. Think about your events and whether they help create your sense of place.
– Tim Merriman