The Paniolo of Hawaii – Captains, Cowboys, and Cows


So a few friends and myself have recently gone on a bit of a “Western” stint. I grew up in a small dairy ranching town, camping holds some fond memories, and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” is probably up there in at least the top 10 films of all time. Of course, there is a oft forgotten cowboy. A progenitor to the lifestyle and breed of man, known as the “Paniolo.

Starting in 1798, long before tourists were interested in renting a Hawaiian Villa for their vacations, Captain George Vancouver arrived at Hawaii with a gift of rather sickly cattle for then King Kamehameha 1. Seeings their condition as they walked off the ship, the king immediately placed them under kapu, or taboo, and released them to roam. Now, cows being cows, and with Hawaii having a general lack of natural predators, the cattle population boomed.

Cow cow cow cow cow cow

Cows near the Kohala Mountain Road, Hawaii – Photograph by Bryan Chan

Now shortly thereafter in 1816 a Mr. John Palmer Parker married the royal granddaughter Kipikane and for the princely sum of $10 secured two acres of land. Hiring on some of the local population as workers, Mr. Parker soon found himself with a booming business. Trading beef, hide and tallow with passing whalers and sandal wood trade ships, and with scant competition on the island, Mr. Parker found himself in need of some skilled handlers.

It was in 1832 that Parker contracted some vaqueoros out of Mexico, expert horsemen with experience handling large herds.  Showing up on the sandy shores with boots, saddles, and a new way of life they took to training Mr. Parker’s men. Dubbed “Paniolo” these Hawaiians were out ranging, roping, and riding a full generation before their American counterparts. Yes these men did it all before the Buffalo Bills and Texas Jacks of the world, riding with Guitar and Ukulele, camping under the stars and leading that romantic life that we each secretly pine for.

Paniolo Country, Hawaii - Photograph by Maysoun

Paniolo Country, Hawaii – Photograph by Maysoun

Of course these traditions still exist in Hawaii today, presented at varying events and parades around the island. You can tour the Kahua Ranch and others like it it. There are even a few dude ranches left around the island if you wanted something a little more eventful. Of course, if you’re more interested in kicking back in a beautiful Hawaiian villa and taking a more leisurely approach, then perhaps a museum or the local spa would be up your alley.


  1. says

    Now after reading this good lesson of history accompanied with the images I feel more than ever like visiting Hawaii as this was my wish from really long time.

    • Chad says

      Me too, you know… I’ve never been. It’s such a popular tourist destination, and yet I’ve just never gotten around to it.

  2. Kent Henderson says

    When I was 13 my family moved to what was then Hawaii National Park on the Big Island. Many of the Park employees were descendants of Paniolo families who retained the hard working, hard playing, oudoor loving and most of all musical traditions of their ancestors. While I am by birth a mainland Hoale who still lives on the mainland, the Paniolo spirit is in my soul. Slack music will forever bring back to Kalapana and the Hawaiian family I felt was my own. Mahalo, Kent

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