San Quentin was treated to a Hawaiian celebration of food, laughs and music.
About 75 prisoners and two dozen Bay Area community members enjoyed the annual feast of the Native Hawaiian Religious Group (NHRG).
“This is the second best thing to having a spread on the yard,” said inmate Romeo Pacos. The gathering reunites Asian and Pacific Islanders and created a spirit of companionship beyond any normal prison experience, said Pacos.
The broad smiles of the Pacific Islanders were evident as they dined, danced, chanted and sang at the Sept. 27 event.
The feast honors the tradi- tion that three months out of the year, war was forbidden, and it was a time for renewal and celebration, explained the group’s sponsor, Patrick Makuakane.
Each of these three promoters leads a group that contributed to the feast:
ORIGAMI GROUP – JUN HAMAMOTO
The tables were decorated with white cloth covers and assorted color origami flowers made by the San Quentin Origami Group.
“This group gives me guidance”
“Without her support, we wouldn’t have any programs,” said a number of members.
SPIRITUAL CHANT & DANCE GROUP – PATRICK MAKUAKANE
Makuakane teaches chants, which further complement the singing and dancing to the upu heke – a double-headed gourd played like a drum.
Men entered the chapel floor with a Hawaiian call and stood on either side of Makuakane as he welcomed the guests. Next, the men performed a dance with swinging hips and dexterous arm movements like shooting arrows in various directions.
Ukulele Group – Adel Serafino
Serafino, known by Auntie Adel, runs the music group that engages the men in singing and playing the four-stringed ukulele and the eight-stringed ukarere.
“What you need to know is how dedicated these guys are. I’m so proud of them. Our hope is that their performance will inspire others to join with our community,” said Auntie Adel.
“I found out about the group from my godbrother, and he invited me to a concert of the program and I got hooked to learn how to play,” said Jerome Hermosura, imprisoned since 1995.
He is the newest member of the group, but was still invited to play a three-song set. “Auntie Adel gives us of her time and culture, and we are so grateful. She brings a sense of peace in a tough environment,” Hermosura said.
Auntie Adel invited all of San Quentin to join the group on Saturday afternoons in the chapel area. “We now have plenty of donated ukuleles; come join us,” she said.
After the mandatory prison count, the feast was served, consisting of Tara root, sweet potatoes, barbecued chicken, peas, lettuces, chow mein, coconut and Tara tapioca deserts, topped off with assorted cookies.
The Native Hawaiian Religious Group reports it guides multicultural prisoners on a path toward self-discovery and is open to all inmates.
The group’s members presented different elements of the Pacific Islander traditional and with a confirmation that “This group gives me guidance to understand all races, not just my own.”
The highlight of the feast was Makuakane’s outside dancers. Some of them have danced for his troupe for 25 to 30 years. The dancers moved gracefully and mesmerized the audience as their upper bodies swayed like seaweed underwater, their lower bodies like waves clashing onto the shore. A ukulele played and guided their movement as if their bodies were strings of the instrument.
Each dancer wore a floorlength colorful dress with multiple seashell necklaces and a blossom in her hair. They all shared an open smile. It was the dancers first time performing in a prison.
As an encore, the incarcerated men and dancers lined up together, dancing in tune and out of tune, mimicking a hot iron dipped into cold water. Perfection was not an expectation and fun was shared as the audience shouted encouragement to all the dancers as they moved to the music.
—David Lȇ contributed to this story. Boatwright