Paniolos, Hawaii’s cowboys

In 1793, Captain George Vancouver gave a dozen longhorn cattle to King Kamehameha I, who put them under “kapu,” which essentially gave them free range and protection from hunters. Over the years, these feral cattle thrived and eventually became a problem. Mexican cowboys, expert horsemen, were contracted to wrangle these cattle and teach Hawaiians how to ranch. The cowboys brought their guitars with them, and before long, islanders embraced the instrument of the Spanish-speaking “españoles”—the paniolos. Hawaiian slack-key guitar playing is descended directly from this cowboy heritage.