Celebrating Koloa History and Passing it On

Phyllis Kunimura
Remembering Phyllis Kunimura at this year’s Koloa Plantation Days.

On the last Saturday of July each year, a few hundred community members from keiki to kupuna bring their horses, their classic cars and a variety of floats, trailers and walking units to Koloa School to march in a parade through old Koloa town to the Annie Knudsen Ballpark, commemorating Kauai’s plantation roots and celebrating its diverse cultures.

The Parade and park celebration that follows is the founding event of the Koloa Plantation Days festival, started 30 years ago on Kaua’i with a gathering by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association and continued as an annual event with the support of then Mayor Tony Kunimura and local community members. Koloa was the site of the state’s first commercial sugar mill in 1835 and the festival started as a sesquicentennial celebration.

With the participation of local businesses, organizations and the visitor industry, the festival has grown into 10 days with over 30 events and activities featuring all aspects of plantation life and the Koloa area including live music, “talk stories” on local history and plantation life, a rodeo weekend, guided historic walks and hikes, film nights and an exhibit, local ethnic foods and crafts, and keiki activities and games most of which are inexpensive or free to attend.

After serving for over 30 years as the President of Koloa Plantation Days, Phyllis Kunimura reminds us each year that what makes this event so special is that it is both a community festival and one that is treasured by our visitors. Her favorite part was the parade and sharing the different elements of plantation life and the diverse cultures so that they would be remembered.

Volunteers come from Koloa community organizations and businesses to talk story, share memories, remember old friends and pass on cultural traditions and information on local history with visitors and residents alike. You’ll find grandparents sharing where and how they grew up alongside visitors eager to learn about the origin of local foods and music and hear stories of life in the plantation camps.
On the 25th anniversary, Governor George Ariyoshi and his wife was welcomed back to Koloa as that year’s Parade Grand Marshall. He was blown away by the atmosphere and authenticity and told her, “you have to keep doing this.”

As a lifelong teacher and educator, Phyllis impressed upon us how important it is to get the younger generation involved and cultivate an interest in sharing local culture and history so that it can be passed on to future generations. Since the last sugar plantation on Kauai closed in 2009 and as the generation who lived the sugar era gets older, this mission to share these experiences and perpetuate this tradition for future generations had become stronger.

A few years ago, Phyllis persuaded some of her former students from Koloa School who grew up with the festival to join the festival leadership. This year Arryl Kaneshiro, Bronson Ho and Bertram Almeida are among the Board officers. We commemorate and remember the many gifts of Phyllis Kunimura during this year’s Koloa Plantation Days, the first without her. But because of her leadership as a teacher, educator and her passion for sharing history with future generations, the legacy lives on.

Koloa Plantation Days will be held this year from July 20-29, 2018 with over 30 events for family members of all ages. This year celebrates the Sueoka Store family as Parade Grand Marshal. For this year’s schedule of events and more information on how to join in and participate, please visit www.koloaplantationdays.com.