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Paniolo Blend: A tribute to America's first cowboys

Paniolo Blend: A tribute to America's first cowboys

The soul of the Banda brand is the homage it pays to people who live life large and to its fullest. We reach out to explorers, seekers, and adventurous people who seek new experiences and enjoy the thrill of exploring distant lands and unique cultures. We want our customers to take our coffee with them on these adventures, or even better, to be the impetus to begin a new adventure.

Our blends are named after people and places that fill us with wonder and excitement about great achievements, fascinating history, and beautiful landscapes. And to that end, we created the Paniolo Blend.

Paniolos are a unique subculture of the American cowboy who work the cattle ranches in the Hawaiian Islands. They are the original American cowboy, and their story is a fascinating one. 


In 1793 the British explorer, cartographer, and Royal Navy officer Captain Gorge Vancouver dropped anchor off the Island of Hawaii while on his historic 1791-1795 Pacific Voyage. He used this as an opportunity to make a gift of ten black longhorn cattle to King Kamehameha I. The cattle came from Spanish California, and while the gift was chock full of colonialist intentions, it proved to be the beginning of a lucrative resource for Hawaii that continues to this day. 

King Kamehameha realized the opportunities that cattle could provide for his kingdom. To protect this nascent resource and allow the small herd to become self-sustaining, Kamehameha imposed a Kapu that forbade anyone to cause harm to or kill the cattle. The penalty for breaking the Kapu was death. 

Despite being in an environment unlike any that this breed of cattle had been raised before, the herd grew rapidly and the cows and bulls grew to great size, with some bulls exceeding 1,500 pounds. While the cattle were initially kept in enclosures, they soon roamed wild throughout the island but especially in Waimea and along the slopes and forests of Mauna Kea. Within 20 years the numbers reached 20,000, and they became a huge problem for the Native Hawaiians. 

The cattle were large and dangerous, and they destroyed crops and frightened people. Something had to be done, so shortly before his death in 1819 King Kamehameha lifted the Kapu and allowed the cattle to be hunted. Professional hunters began pursuing the cattle with single shot black powder muskets. They lived in makeshift camps and employed native Hawaiians to pack out the meat, fat, and hides to be sold at the ports to Merchant ships. One of these hunters was a man named John Palmer Parker. 

John Parker left New England on a whaling ship when he was 19 years old. He craved adventure and thought that he could make his fortune in the South Seas and Asia. On his first voyage, his ship stopped in Hawaii to resupply. Parker fell in love with the Hawaiian islands and its people. Parker's ship went on to Canton China, but as a result of a British blockade, he was forced to remain in China until the blockade was lifted. His time in China was valuable because it taught Parker how to adapt to and get along in an unfamiliar culture. This was to serve him well throughout his life. 

On the return trip, Parker's ship stopped again in Hawaii. He went ashore and decided to set down roots. He never returned to his home in New England. 

In the next ten years, Parker became a friend and advisor to King Kamehameha. He married his granddaughter and became instrumental in the transformation of the Hawaiian economy and culture. 

In time it became clear that hunting cattle was not the solution to the cattle problem, nor the best use of them as a valuable resource. By then King Kamehameha was gone, and his grandson King Kamehameha III was on the throne. The new king had learned about the cattle ranches in California and the Spanish Southwest, and about the Mexican cowboy called Vaqueros who worked on these ranches. He sent an emissary to visit the area and get Vaqueros to come to the Island and teach the Hawaiians how to ranch and raise cattle. The new King allowed cattle to be captured and corralled, and the formation of ranches to begin. John Parker took full advantage of this opportunity and started the Parker Ranch. 

A small group of Vaqueros came to Hawaii and brought their horses, saddles, and other gear necessary for cattle ranching. They began to teach Hawaiians how to ride horses and manage cattle herds. The locals called the Vaqueros Paniolos, which derives from the word Espanola. The ranches grew in size. Property ownership and property laws that were alien to Hawaiian culture, but necessary for the ownership of cattle and land, were soon implemented. John Parker’s Ranch became the largest and most successful. 

The Paniolo developed as a separate cowboy culture from their mainland brethren. They wore straw hats more similar to field hats than cowboy hats, and they often had flower leis for hat bands. Their boots were typically tall lace-up pointed-toe boots with lower heels. These boots were good in stirrups, but also stable on the hilly lava-strewn ground of Waimea and Mauna Kea. Unlike any other cowboys, the Paniolos worked cattle in the surf getting them to ships that transported the cattle to slaughterhouses in Honolulu and California. This was done one steer at a time. The steer was lassoed and pulled up tight against the horse then swam out to a barge that hoisted the cattle onboard to transfer to larger ships anchored further out.

The Paniolo was the first American cowboy. And because they were mostly native Hawaiians it has been said in irony that the cowboys were the Indians in what was the furthest western point of the American “Wild West”. The Paniolos began ranching in Hawaii in the 1830s which was about three decades before the ranches and cattle drives in Kansas and Texas. 

The Paniolos and their traditions continue to exist today. They can be found on many of the islands, but they are far more numerous on the Parker Ranch. Their ethnicity is more mixed and multi-cultural today with most Paniolos being some combination of Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese. They wear denim jeans, but their shirt is often a Hawaiian floral print or a Portuguese Plaid. Their food consists of those of their various ethnicities, but the music is the rich Hawaiian music of guitar, slack key guitar, ukulele, and vocals. 

Our Paniolo Blend is a mix of Hawaiian and Mexican coffee to reflect the Vaqueros and Hawaiians that were the first Paniolos. It is a dark roast suited to brisk mornings around a campfire, or in the bunkhouse. We know you will enjoy this blend and hope it motivates you to learn more about Paniolos, the Parker Ranch, and the Waimea area of Hawaii. 


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