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Hawaii’s Colombians celebrated their traditional Carnaval at Magic Island

By José Villa, Senior Editor
Hawaii Hispanic News

HONOLULU, Hawaii – On Saturday, February 18, Hawaii’s Colombian community celebrated their annual Carnaval on Magic Island. I asked Maria Claudia Butcher Bernales, one of the organizers, to share the purpose of the carnaval. She is from Barranquilla, Colombia, and works as a computer systems engineer at the University of Hawaii.

According to the Wikipedia: “Barranquilla is an industrial port city and municipality located in northern Colombia, near the Caribbean Sea. It is the largest industrial city and port in the Colombian Caribbean region with a population of 1,148,506 as of 2005, which makes it Colombia’s fourth most populous city after Bogotá, Medellín and Cali.” That means the population is roughly
the size of ours here in Hawaii.

Butcher is a member of a family of pastors. She said” “We were pastoring in Oregon when we were called upon, while praying, to
come to Hawaii to do His work here. It was a leap of faith. We came in 2005 to look around and get a feel for the societal landscape. We didn’t have any jobs. After arriving, we were able to start meeting members of the Hispanic community through volunteering at the Word of Life En Español ministry.”

She continued: “We were then able to start locating and connecting with other Colombians in the community here. One time a friend mentioned that we should have a carnaval here like the one back home in Barranquilla. It turned out later that she was
kidding, but I took the idea to heart.”

According to Wikipedia: “Throughout the year the city has considerable cultural activity. It’s best known for the Carnival of
Barranquilla, one of the most famous festivals in Colombia. It is a multicultural event highlighting the cultural traditions from the 19th Century. It is held annually during the four days preceding Ash Wednesday-Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, usually in February or early March.”

Butcher continued: “I started developing the plans for a Baranquilla-style carnaval here. We had the first one in 2010 at the Pililaau Army Recreation Center at Pokai Bay in Waianae and it was spectacular. We had food, music, dancing, etc. I was the first queen. We had a website and the info was on the radio, etc. Last year’s carnaval was in Kapiolani Park.”

Butcher went on: “This year’s carnaval queen was Kaylah Miranda. She is half-Dominican and half-Colombian. She was one of the winners in this year’s Miss Hawaii Latina Pageant and we were proud to have her. We actually invited the queen from Baranquilla”

What is the purpose of the festival in Baranquillas? Butcher said: “The purpose of the festival is actually to provide a respite for the entire city. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come out into the streets and forget the everyday problems they may be dealing with. Many folks wear masks and costumes. There are many political barbs and satire of elected officials, the president, the government and dignitaries, etc.”

She continued: “One of my favorite parts of the festival is the Battle of the Flowers. It’s comprised of various floats decorated with flowers – similar to our Aloha Floral Parade here. Each float has a queen. In-between the floats, we have bands and dancing groups performing. And they’ll also have well-known Latin orchestras perform, like El Gran Combo from Puerto Rico. So – essentially – it’s like a block party for the entire city.”

I’m certainly looking forward to many more Colombian carnavals in Hawaii. These folks throw a great party!


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  • Jose Villa
    March 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story Marisa!

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