Looking for a staycation? Napa Valley Expo in downtown Napa has been transformed into a tropical paradise for the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation’s annual Aloha Festival.
There are no beaches or palm trees, but if you are looking for good food, relaxing music, energetic dance performances and a chance to strum a ukulele, Aloha Fest is for you.
“I love sharing my culture,” said Auntie Mel Lagrimas Esguerra, who brought her California Hula Center apparel to the festival for the first time this year. “I’ve been dancing all my life, but now that I make and sell Polynesian costumes, I get to meet all kinds of people. I love festivals like this because you feel like you are on the Island. Everyone is just happy here. If you are in a rut, come here. It’s a small oasis for your weekend.”
While Auntie Mel was talking with customers about her designs and Hawaiian-inspired clothing, such as shirts that read “You had me at Aloha” – Isha Moke of San Francisco was sewing leis with tuberose.
Moke, born and raised in Hawaii, has been making leis since she was a child. Today she is a hi’iaka florist who owns her own business.
“Leis are more than their beauty,” Moke said. “You have to pick the flowers and use a delicate hand to sew them together. It is a practice that comes from the heart. Leis can be a token of friendship or a symbol of love.”
Next to Moke, Randy Ranoa was weaving together a Hawaiian helmet, known as mahiole, out of Freycinetia arborea. Completing one helmet can take 40-80 hours depending on the size and design.
Ranoa said there aren’t many people who make mahiole anymore, but he doesn’t sell his work. “There isn’t really a market for it,” he said. “I just like the tradition of it.”
He may not have many customers, but one of his helmets is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
While Mae Igancio was leading a workshop on hot hula fitness at the Reisling Hall, and Kapalakiko Hawaiian band was entertaining the crowd gathered under a large canopy, Bob Miyashiro was working on his Hawaiian feather crafts, and Michael F. Smith was building a ukulele. Everywhere you turn there is something else to be seen.
“We pack a lot into two days,” said Jessica Luthi, Aloha Fest chairperson. “We have live music, dancing, workshops and we have merchants and food. The Aloha Festival is a celebration, and it is for everyone. That’s why we don’t charge admission. This is a place for native Hawaiians to find a piece of home, but it’s also for anyone who is looking for a good time and wants to experience Hawaiian culture.”