A Brief History of the Okinawan Festival
It's hard to imagine this year marks the 30th celebration of one of Hawaii's most successful ethnic celebrations - the Okinawan Festival. Since its debut at Ala Moana Park's McCoy Pavilion, who could have imagined back then that the event would grow to attract over 50,000 people from all over the world, involve more than two thousand volunteers, and be staged at Waikiki's biggest park?
But like so many aspects of the Okinawan experience in Hawaii, it is from knowing the humble beginnings of this wonderful cultural event that we come to fully appreciate it.
The Okinawan Festival grew out of a cultural program initiated and organized by Hui O Laulima, an Okinawan women's group. Their goal was to share the Okinawan culture with the public through exhibitions and demonstrations. Hui O Laulima's first "Cultural Jubilee" was held at the Ala Moana Hotel in 1971. It was co-sponsored by the United Okinawan Association (since renamed the Hawaii United Okinawa Association).
During the planning, word of the jubilee filtered back to Okinawa. The government quickly assembled a troupe of Okinawan dance masters to perform in Hawaii at the Farrington High School Auditorium. The performance was presented in conjunction with the jubilee.
Hui O Laulima and the UOA continued their joint sponsorship of the cultural jubilee until 1982, when the desire to reach out to the broader local community and to involve more UOA clubs and their members resulted in the birth of the Okinawan Festival.
The first Okinawan Festival was held in Hawaii in 1982 at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Park. Each year brought growth and new programs. By 1985, the Festival had outgrown McCoy Pavilion, so it was moved to a bigger venue, Thomas Square and the Honolulu Academy of Arts, before moving once again in 1990 to its present location at Kapiolani Park.
Attracting more than 50,000 visitors annually, the Okinawan Festival has become the premiere annual event of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association. Proceeds from the Festival support the HUOA's mission of preserving, promoting and sharing the Okinawan culture.