Paniolo Culture

The Hawaiian Cowboy

Paniolo culture refers to the cowboy culture that developed throughout the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century. Paniolo were skilled cowboys who were responsible for managing cattle and other livestock on ranches throughout Hawaii.

In the early 1960’s and 1970’s, Ulupalakua Ranch had a total of 30 paniolo actively working in the field, incorporating their ancestors’ heritage using ancient Hawaiian materials and techniques.

The Paniolo culture has played an important role in the history of our ranch, shaping its economy and way of life. Today, the Paniolo culture continues through events such as the quarterly Branding Event at UR which features traditional Paniolo style calf roping, branding, and vaccinations. The Ulupalakua Ranch staff and community are always working to promote and preserve the paniolo way of life.

Maui paniolos, also known as Hawaiian cowboys, have a rich history that dates back to the early 19th century when King Kamehameha I introduced cattle to the Hawaiian islands. The king hoped that the cattle would provide a source of food and a means of transportation for his people, but the animals quickly multiplied and became a nuisance, damaging crops and causing other problems.

In response, the king brought in vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys, to help manage the cattle. The vaqueros taught the Hawaiians how to ride horses, rope cattle, and other skills needed to work with the animals. Over time, the Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolos, developed their own distinctive style and traditions, blending Native Hawaiian and Mexican influences.

Today, the paniolo tradition is still alive and well on Maui, with ranches across the island producing high-quality beef and continuing to employ the skills and techniques passed down from earlier generations. The Maui Roping Club holds regular competitions that showcase the paniolos’ riding and roping skills, and visitors can often see cowboys at work on ranches and open range areas throughout the island.

The paniolo culture is also celebrated at events such as the annual Maui County Agricultural Festival, which includes a paniolo parade and other activities that highlight the island’s agricultural heritage.

Overall, Maui paniolos play an important role in the island’s cultural and economic landscape, and their traditions and skills continue to be an important part of Hawaii’s unique heritage.

Merton G. Kekiwi, Retired UR Paniolo

Paniolo Hall of Fame

Merton G. Kekiwi was born on Maui on July 27, 1943. He was raised on Kaonoulu Ranch where his father, Hua Kekiwi worked as a ranch foreman. At the age of 10 he worked along with his Dad as a cowboy. He was given young horses to ride and of course, was “bucked off,” many, many times!