A taste of the islands at Hawaiian festival

Annual event branches out to include 5K run, cultural corner

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Ho'ike and Hawaiian Festival

For Kapuanani Antonio, it's the sensory experiences that take her back home.

The smell of plumeria leis and other flowers. The smell of cooking pork. The gentle sound of Hawaiian music.

Home, of course, is Hawaii, where Antonio spent the first 10 years of her life. She still goes back regularly, but in Vancouver, the Ho'ike and Hawaiian Festival is about as close as it gets.

"This is kind of a home away from home for us," Antonio said.

The annual event offered a taste of the islands and Polynesian culture Saturday at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver, wrapping up "Three Days of Aloha in the Pacific Northwest." Visitors took part in traditional games, crafts, music, food, and hula dancing. The gathering is put on each year by the Vancouver-based Ke Kukui Foundation.

Antonio, a foundation board member, said the event is geared toward "Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart." In this region, that's more than some people might realize, she said.

"There's a lot of Hawaiian community here in the Pacific Northwest," Antonio said.

Saturday's festivities kicked off with a 5K run. Also new to this year's event was a "cultural corner" with games, lei making and other activities. Late Saturday morning, foundation volunteer Kaina Barba took a seat as another volunteer made poi, the traditional food derived from a mashed, cooked plant stem.

The Hawaiian Festival has grown from humble beginnings when it took place in a school gym, Antonio said. Now it's one of the biggest events each year at Esther Short Park. Last year, the Hawaiian festival won a local "Spirit of Tourism" award.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com