Malika discovers pa'u riding

Leiala and Lita Cook
Leiala and Lita Cook

By Malika Dudley - bio | email

WAIMANALO, Oahu (HawaiiNewsNow) - Leiala Cook knows pa'u riding. She's been doing it since she was 9 years old. In the 1800' s women wore the pa'u on their way to special events. "When you're running and galloping to the event all the dust is flying so that's why the pau covered their ball gowns," she explains. A passion for pa'u runs in Leiala's family. Her mother Lita, was known as the "queen of pa'u riders."

"Ever since my mom passed away in 2003 I took over as chairperson for the aloha festivals parade so I can keep her legacy and my family tradition alive."

Her mother was equestrian chairperson for 25 years, now it's Leiala who oversees the horse units. The pa'u riders are selected based on horsemanship, but there's also a hierarchy.

"To become a princess you would start off mainly becoming a pooper scooper first then becoming an attendant, then being a princess."

Once a princess has ridden for each of our eight islands, she can become queen. Each rider must fill out an application, selection is made in April, followed by months of practice. Well it's time for me to become a pa'u rider! Leiala puts the poncho on first, then hair and make-up, and the draping of lei. Underneath, a simple pair of jeans. Next step, the pa'u. Twelve yards of material tied tight around the waist.

"There's no zippers no strings no buttons. It's just held up with six kukui nuts."

Three in front, three in back and three twists before tucking them in creating a culotte of sorts which makes it easier to get on the horse. It's definitely not as easy as it looks.