BREMERTON — The sweet sounds of a ukulele wafted through the air, which carried the mouthwatering aroma of teriyaki chicken being barbecued on an open grill.
The cultures of the Pacific islands were on full display at the second Pacific Islanders Festival, Aug. 26 on the Bremerton Boardwalk.
A crowd of nearly 3,000 descended upon the downtown waterfront to take part in an afternoon filled with food, music and dancing — capturing the essence of the aloha spirit, especially for those who were born and raised on the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s the island way of getting everybody together,” said Michelle Paulino of Islandher Promotions, the event promoter and a native of Guam. “It’s enjoying the music, the culture and food for people that are away from the islands, or perhaps for those that were once stationed in the military out there as well.”
Washington has the third-largest population of Pacific islanders — in terms of raw numbers — among the 50 states, behind California and Hawaii, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Pacific islanders comprise 1.3 percent of Bremerton’s population.
“It’s nice to bring this event to our community because there’s a huge calling for it,” said Paulino.
But you certainly do not have to be welcomed to enjoy the festival. Just bring your island spirit and a large appetite.
‘Made with aloha’
Mark Smith was manning his grill near the center of the festival, turning out large quantities of teriyaki chicken, short ribs and rice to a long line of hungry customers.
When asked what made his food stand out, his response was simple.
“It’s made with aloha,” said Smith, which, he explained, means it is made with love.
That was a theme that ran throughout the event as food vendors lined the boardwalk with their own dishes — chicken and rice, garlic shrimp, lumpia (a wrapper filled with vegetables and meat), and adobo chicken (found in Filipino cuisine).
Also manning the grill were volunteers from the Bremerton Pentecostal Youth — connected to the local First Samoan Church in Bremerton — who were fundraising for their group’s back-to-school activities. After attending last year’s Pacific Islander Festival, Richard Fesuluai, one of the volunteers, said the event was the perfect opportunity for a fundraiser.
“It’s our first year here, and it’s a terrific way to network within the Polynesian community,” Fesuluai said.
Another way to bring home a taste of the islands was to visit many of the specialty craft and clothing booths along the waterfront.
Jeff Simmons, one of the owners of Kiana’s Hawaiian Jewelry and Crafts, a Seattle-based online-only company, said he sells his heirloom jewelry from Oahu as a way for people who do not have the means to visit the Pacific islands to take a piece of them home.
“It makes it affordable for them, so they don’t actually have to go out there if they can’t,” Simmons said.
Throughout the event, there was plenty of music and dancing at the center stage, including Silverdale-based Halau Hula O’ Healani Mai Ka ’ Aina ‘Ona Kumula’au Ki ‘Eki ‘E. As ukuleles, guitars and bass played in rhythm, the audience was treated to the traditional dances of the various Pacific island cultures.
“It’s a great way to unite all the islands and the newcomers,” said Paulino. “It’s been awesome.”