Kaloku Holt beamed as he thanked a crowd in Esther Short Park near the end of the Four Days of Aloha in the Pacific Northwest, an annual Hawaiian festival. For the first time this year, the festival expanded from three to four days, a sign of the annual event’s growth.
As Holt — who took the lead in organizing the event for the second consecutive year– spoke, a photo of his mother “Aunty” Deva Yamashiro was posted in an information booth about 25 feet away. He recognized that the additional day was a vision he shared with his mother, who launched the event 17 years ago and died of cancer almost two years ago.
“She had always wanted to do four days,” Holt told the crowd. “It happened the way it should have.”
As many as 30,000 people have attended the event in recent years. Holt, and some of the vendors and volunteers who worked at the festival, believe many more attended this year.
An information booth featured a checklist asking people how they heard about the festival. The top three ways were through friends, attending regularly and on Facebook through the Ke Kukui Foundation.
Another sheet at the booth asked people to pinpoint where they live. Hawaii and the West Coast were well-represented, but pins could also be found in places like Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Iowa and Utah.
“It’s grown — vendors, people that walk through, the entertainment program,” said Eric Romento, who volunteered for the festival’s first few years and recently returned. “More people are talking about it.”
Booths line along the circular path that surrounds the park’s stage, which featured a variety of entertainment, including music, dancing and competitions. With the extra day this year, demonstrations of different cultures– including a Chinese lion dance — were added.
“I wanted people to feel the experience of Hawaii, which is a mix of cultures,” Holt said.
The additional day was also a welcome change for vendors who spent an extra day selling Hawaiian products and services.
Clarence Nishikata of Oahu has been selling Hawaiian Plumeria plants at the festival for five years. He estimated that he sold about 150 plants before the final day even began.
“The extra day made the revenue higher,” Nishikata said. “They did it right. I love the community and the people.”
April Fukijawa of Oahu sold her tropical silk flowers at the festival for the first time. She found out about it through her son Dean Fukijawa, who lives in Beaverton, Ore.
Fukijawa typically sells at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace, a large flea market in Honolulu. When she sells there, buyers typically want to bargain on prices, Fukijawa said. But this weekend, she noticed a difference in motivations as people flocked to the free event for the cultural experience.
“A lot of people, they come as a family. They plan to spend money,” Fukijawa said. “I can tell by the way they look. It’s something they can’t get somewhere else.”
Holt is quick to point out that many people were involved in planning the festival, the Ke Kukui Foundation’s main yearly event. But after he thanked the crowd with roughly 20 minutes before the end of the festival, music continued to blast and a crowd continued to dance.
Holt, sporting a backward pink baseball cap, Hawaiian shirt, jeans, flip-flops, sunglasses and leis around his neck, said he felt “fulfilled.” Shortly after, he went to the stage to dance with his son Oku, 2.
“Everyone is just so happy,” Holt said. “My mom laid the foundation. I’m adding my vision. I’m kind of on a high.”