Crowd shrugs off rain at East Maui Taro Festival

Hundreds enjoy silver lining of old friends, good food at event

The Maui News
March 30, 2003

Staff Writer

HANA — Rain and people poured into Hana town for the East Maui Taro Festival on Saturday, drenching the event with "liquid sunshine" and high spirits.

Within two hours of the festival's opening on the Hana Ball Park field, taro farmer Tweetie Lind had sold four barrels of taro grown by the Kipahulu Ohana in Kipahulu.

"Usually I don't sell out this early," she said, smiling while grinding breadfruit for a crowd donned in raincoats and armed with umbrellas.

Hundreds of residents and visitors braved Saturday's pouring rain to enjoy poi freshly pounded right under the tent, along with steamed fish caught and cooked by local fishermen and taro almond fritters packed in a brown paper bag.

The event also featured nonstop Hawaiian entertainment, arts and crafts, demonstrations and a student art exhibit. The festival will wrap up today with a taro pancake breakfast from 7 to 10:30 a.m. at the Hana Ball Park and an open house at the Kahanu Garden/Pi'ilanihale heiau from noon to 2 p.m.

More rain is expected today after more than 2.7 inches fell by 2 p.m. Saturday, but the damp weather only meant there wasn't a better place in Hana to spend the time.

"This is good because people stay in and buy," vendor Kalia Dizon said under a giant tent just moments before selling out of her taro almond fritters, based on a recipe she created herself.

Customers also devoured Dizon's "Taro Delight Bites," a cookie made with honey and maple syrup. "The rain doesn't stop anything," she said. "It actually brings people out."

"We call it liquid sunshine," producer Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier said Saturday.

This year's festival was captured on videotape by Jazz Alley TV-Maui Reflections Films, which plans to produce a TV special on the event. Burgmaier said his crew simply put on plastic covers on their equipment and went about documenting the event.

"This just brings out a different energy in people," he said between filming.

Burgmaier plans to put together a one-hour Jazz Alley TV special that will air nationwide and internationally this summer on Viacom Digital Music Networks and WorldNet TV. Select footage will also be aired on select airlines as in-flight videos.

Burgmaier said he's produced films in more than 30 countries and decided to do one focusing on Hawaiian roots, music and arts. He's in the process of wrapping up a documentary on taro, which covers aspects of farming.

Just two taro concerns from East Maui were participating in the event — the Kipahulu Ohana led by Tweetie Lind and her husband, John, and the Pahukoa family from Keanae, represented by Leimomi Pahukoa and her cousin, Tammy Hueu.

Both families ran out of taro and taro products within two hours of Saturday's start. Understandably with all the rain pouring, some of the dollar bills being exchanged were wet.

"It's raining, but we're still doing really good," Pahukoa said.

"Somebody said the rain is embracing," Lind said. "I think that's what's happening."

Kalei Kaeo of Makawao said he didn't think twice about coming. "Nothing wrong with the rain," he said.

Kaeo helped his friends pound taro for poi at the festival. He said he enjoys being with family and friends.

"The whole meaning behind this, Hawaiian culture, that's the main thing," he said.

For other vendors, the East Maui Taro Festival provided exposure for visitors who may not be familiar with all that Hana has to offer. Hana Herbs & Flowers, owned by Eileen Comeaux, was providing samples of pohole (fern shoot) salad.

"So far, so good," Comeaux said of the crowd response. "This is a great way to meet friends and to make friends," she said.

Comeaux's family-run farm has been in business about 19 years. "The thing about farming is you to be diversify and kind of go with what's happening.

She said she enjoyed the showers at the festival. "Actually all this rain brings out the charm in Hana."

Next to Comeaux, Liza Botz was participating in the festival for the first time, displaying and selling her pressed roses and flowers in frames.

The only vendor who clearly was affected by the cool, damp weather was James Perry, who had a shave ice van. He said business was down by 50 percent from last year.

But Perry was still smiling, having enjoyed his time in Hana over the spring break. Perry said he was born and reared in Hana but now lives in Mililani and holds a teaching job in Honolulu.

"It's nice to visit home. It's pretty much the same. You see houses pop up here and there, but it's still Hana," he said.

The festival also provided a venue for organizers of the "Pa'ani Mai" Playground Project to let people know of their plans to develop a facility for children in Hana. Ke'ala Lono, a project coordinator, said people visited her tent, looking over written materials and photos and even buying a T-shirt designed by a Hana youngster.

The project has received a $10,000 grant, and organizers hope to raise as much as $40,000 to build a playground.

They are seeking a site convenient to families in the rural community that is stretched along the winding Hana Highway.

Lono said, "It's been good for us just to show people what we're doing."


East Maui Taro Festival, Inc.
P.O. Box 295
Hana, Hawaii 96713

For scheduling and information call 808-375-3317.