In parades across Hawai‘i, women participate in an event called pa‘u riding. Eight princesses, a queen, and numerous attendants ride horseback, wearing flowing pa‘u skirts and looking like beauty queens. These women view themselves as representatives of Hawaiian history, but this display of historical memory is anything but straightforward. The event fosters a sense of local community and history, yet it paradoxically also showcases fractious divisions in Hawaiian society. Controversy exists as to which women legitimately can be pa‘u princesses. Although pa‘u riding was originally founded by upper-class white women, the pa‘u skirt has connections to the native Hawaiian hula, and the riding form has been used as a symbol of indigenous protest by native Hawaiian women. Today, Hawaiian women of a variety of ethnic identities use pa‘u riding to engage in a postcolonial debate about memory, race, and belonging.
- © 2015 by the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association