Ooh la, come and hula: Festival will fete Hawaiian culture

There’ll be a bit of aloha in Henderson this weekend when the 23rd annual Prince Kuhio Ho’olaule’a Festival returns to the Henderson Events Plaza.

And even if island breezes are hard to come by in Southern Nevada, the two-day festival will offer Hawaii transplants and wannabe Hawaiian visitors a venue in which to celebrate the food, entertainment and culture of Hawaii.

The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Henderson Events Plaza, 200 Water St.

The annual event was founded and is organized by the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club. It has been part of Henderson’s cultural events calendar since 2007, when it moved to Henderson from Las Vegas.

Vincent Souza, the club’s president, notes that “Ho’olaule’a” means “celebration,” while Prince Kuhio was the founder of the first Hawaiian Civic Club in 1918 and a Hawaiian prince who was Hawaii’s “very first delegate to the U.S. Congress when Hawaii was annexed and became a territory of the U.S.”

Souza says the festival hosts between 30,000 and 40,000 guests each year. Many are former Hawaii residents seeking to recapture a bit of the back-home vibe; others are mainlanders who haven’t been to Hawaii yet but would love to someday.

“A lot of our attendees come from surrounding states — California, Arizona, Washington, Utah and Colorado,” he said. “The last several years, we’ve had performance groups who fly in from as far away as Florida.”

The festival even draws a sizable contingent of guests who come to Las Vegas from Hawaii to attend, Souza says.

The festival will feature food vendors serving dishes that represent the polyglot cuisine of Hawaii. Hawaiian cuisine actually is “a melange of various ethnicities,” Souza explains. “So we’ll have the Asian, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Filipino, our Polynesian cousins the Samoans, and so forth. There’ll be just an array of ethnic food.”

Entertainment offerings will include locally based performers and performing groups, including hula schools and dance troupes. Scheduled to perform at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday is Darlene Ahuna, a multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards winner — the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy — who, Souza says, sings traditional Hawaiian music.

Festivalgoers also may try crafting traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts, or purchase arts and crafts items, jewelry and clothing from vendors.

A portion of festival proceeds is earmarked for Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club scholarship programs.

What’s behind the perennial appeal of the Prince Kuhio Ho’olaule’a Festival? It may be, Souza says, simply the appeal of the islands and all that represents.

“People may call it cliche, but we always say there’s the aloha spirit,” he says. “People say, ‘How do you define the aloha spirit?’ It’s truly just a welcoming (sense) in that we look to share our culture and our traditions.”

And to revel in the aloha spirit, Souza says, “it doesn’t matter if you’re of Hawaiian ancestry or not.”

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