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The sights, sounds and flavors of Hawaii brought some aloha to the valley Saturday during the Second annual Aloha Festival at the Napa Valley Exposition center.

Thousands gathered at the Expo to take in some Hawaiian culture and learn the true meaning of aloha.

“Aloha can mean ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye’ (or) to show affection, to love,” said Tony Sanchez, one of the many people who attended the event.

Sanchez was born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii, he said. When he joined the Air Force in 1999, Chavez left the island for the mainland and was stationed at Travis Air Force Base where he currently serves as a tech sergeant who’s in charge of assisting during military funerals.

Chavez said that Saturday’s Aloha Festival was one of the many similar festivals he attends throughout the year in an effort to keep in touch with his Hawaiian roots.

“All the Hawaiian culture, it cannot leave you,” he said. “You can take the boy out of the island, but you can’t take the island out of the boy.”

At one of the event’s many cultural workshops, people learned how to weave baskets, bookmarks, fans and hats using Ulana Lauhala — the traditional Hawaiian weaving technique that turns the leaves of the hala tree into crafts.

“It’s a practice that’s been part of our lives for centuries,” said Pi’iali’i Lawson, a Lauhala instructor who teaches the art form at Kaululehua Hawaiian Culture Center in South San Francisco. “It’s survival for us.”

The leaves of the hala tree, which grows throughout Hawaii, also have medicinal purposes and can be used to make leis, Lawson said. Other workshops at the festival explored Hawaiian hula dancing, quilt making and massage.

Some participants strolled through the Expo and browsed at the 60 or more vendors who were selling everything from exotic Hawaiian dresses, shirts, Hawaiian music, candy and jewelry.

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Others seemed content with sitting in the lawn area eating from plates piled high with Hawaiian-style barbecue chicken, spare ribs, beef, rice and macaroni salad.

The sounds of sweet Hawaiian music from both traditional and modern groups — including Cyril Pahinui and Friends, Kawika Alfiche and Haalau O Keikiali’i, Funo Ohana, Hiram Bell and many others — permeated throughout the Expo, exposing the crowd to a form of entertainment not often seen in the valley.

The festival was started by one ambitious musical group that also took the stage Saturday and makes its home in Napa. It all began when Jerry “Kani” Gillgren and Keoki Cortez, members of the Hawaiian music sensation Manaleo, got together and started talking.

“Myself and Keoki said we need to be more than playing Hawaiian music,” said Gillgren. “So we put together the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation. We discussed ideas for a festival and we put together one (last year).”

The festival was a resounding success, Gillgren said, and a proclamation signed by Mayor Jill Techel on Sept. 20, 2008 gave the third week of September the official title of Napa Valley Aloha Festival Week.


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