Hawaiʻi County Council lends financial support to upcoming Hala Festival 2024, other community initiatives

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The Big Island’s Puna District was once famed for the fragrance of maile, lehua and hala.

In a Jan. 17, 2011, article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Heidi Bornhorst noted that old stories tell how lost fishermen adrift at sea were able to find their way home because of the smell of hala leaves and flowers being carried by winds blowing from land.

Image from the Hala Festival 2024 website

Extensive hala forests can still be found along the island’s coast, but the tree, which provides leaves used for lauhala weaving, was much more common in the past. Puna used to have large groves of the indigenous tree.

Wild populations can still be found on the windward coasts and lower valleys of the main Hawaiian Islands, with groves ranging from just a few trees to thousands.

The Hawaiʻi County Council is lending its support to a new event coming next month aimed at celebrating the iconic tree while simultaneously addressing the need to protect and preserve hala forests on the island, especially in Puna, which face impacts from invasive species such as the hala scale insect and rhinoceros beetle, as well as habitat loss in the state’s fastest growing district and its growing development.


During its regular session Wednesday, the council adopted Resolution 484, introduced by Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, providing a $2,500 grant to assist with expenses, such as photography, videography, printing services, lauhala weaving workshops and more, as part of Hala Festival 2024 in Puna.

The festival, co-hosted by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee and nonprofit Pōhaku Pelemaka, kicks off at 10 a.m. May 18 and runs through 2 p.m. at Makuʻu Farmers Market, located at 15-2131 Keaʻau-Pāhoa Road.

“It’s events like this that really offer an opportunity for our community to come together to share in the education and the knowledge of our hala,” said Pohaku Pelemaka Executive Director Leila Kealoha as she testified via Zoom during the council meeting.

Kawehi Young, community engagement liaison with the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, testified in the Hilo council chambers, saying the co-hosts think the festival is an important way for people to nurture a deeper connection to where they live and respect the cultural and natural resources of Hawaiʻi.


“Hala is cherished for its many uses,” said Young. “It’s an integral part of Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian identity and well-being, and it continues to be an important source for lei makers, weavers and other cultural practices.”

Kealoha said the tree however doesn’t get quite as much recognition as other native trees such as the ʻōhiʻa, a species facing its problems such as rapid ʻōhiʻa death. The festival will highlight and honor hala’s rich cultural heritage and ecological importance.

Young added in written testimony submitted before Wednesday’s meeting that it also will serve as a catalyst for economic growth, providing artisans, cultural practitioners, small businesses and community organizations a platform to showcase their work.

“Hopefully, this can set an example for us to be able to have an annual festival that really celebrates the significance of hala within Puna,” Kealoha said.


Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas loves hala and all things crafted with the leaves of the native Hawaiian tree. She also respects the lauhala weavers who have picked up what she said had become a dying art form and now are sharing it with a more diverse section of the Big Island community.

She was not only deeply grateful but super excited to support the grant for Hala Festival 2024 and also hopes it becomes an annual event so more weavers can join the lauhala community and the love, respect and cherishing of products made with hala will also be perpetuated.

“I see such incredible value and priceless history in this cultural practice,” said Villegas.

To find more information about Hala Festival 2024, including how to be a vendor or volunteer during the event, click here. You can also register for hala workshops.

The council approved Resolution 484 by a vote of 6-0, with Lee Loy, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz and Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba absent.

The festival wasn’t the only community event, program or project that got a boost Wednesday. Among other business, the council:

  • Adopted Resolution 473, which provides a $2,000 grant to help with expenses from Keaʻau Family Fun Day, which was conducted at the end of March.
  • Adopted Resolutions 474 and 480, which provide a total of $2,000 to assist with the 2024 Hilo Lei Day Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 1 in downtown Hilo’s Kalākaua Park.
  • Adopted Resolution 479, which provides $5,000 for the Hawai‘i County Parks and Recreation Department 2024 Summer Enrichment program at Hale Hālāwai Park in Kailua-Kona.
  • Adopted Resolution 481, which provides a $1,000 grant for the 20th annual Celebration of Life event hosted by Hawai‘i Care Choices from noon to 7:30 p.m. May 26 at Reeds Bay Beach Park in Hilo.
  • Adopted Resolution 482, which grants $5,000 to help with costs related to community service projects and educational activities with Miss Kona Coffee.
  • Adopted Resolution 483, which provides a $1,700 grant in support of the 2024 Bruddah Kuz Youth Jamm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 at Billy Kenoi District Park in Pāhoa.
  • Adopted Resolution 478, providing $2,200 for the Waimea Preservation Association’s Friends of Waimea Community Emergency Response Team project.
  • Adopted Resolution 476, which grants $10,000 to support the residency rotation program of the Hawai‘i Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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