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On being Maui
April 4, 2013 - Rick Chatenever
He's known in myths and legends as a hero, a superman, a dutiful son, a trickster. But really, who, or what, was Maui?
He's us! was the the unexpected answer to the question at last weekend's 21st annual Celebration of the Arts at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. We all have the choice to emulate the Maui of legend, to find our higher selves, to make daring choices to change the course of destiny was the conclusion to "Aui a ka malo Maui of the malo," presented by kumu hula sisters Hokulani Holt and Ulalia Woodside.
The symposia and panel discussions are always among the highlights of this unique annual festival celebrating all things Hawaiian in the luxurious Ritz environs. It's like a Hawaiian immersion program for adults, but the lessons learned are often outside the box, where you weren't expecting to find them.
Guided by the enlightened wisdom and kindness - otherwise known as aloha - of event chairman Clifford Nae'ole, the annual celebration isn't just an exploration of what it means to be Hawaiian - but rather, what it means to be human.
The realization just happens to come clothed in the colorful trappings, the exacting precision, the rich history, the humor, the humility and the zest for life of the host culture of this place we call home.
It's an incongruous marriage - the ancient practices and protocols, the contemporary environmental and political challenges of living wisely and responsibly on these islands, with the five-star, casual elegance of the Ritz-Carlton as a backdrop. But in shaping the theme for each new year's celebration, Nae'ole takes inspiration from Honokahua, the preservation site containing the remains of thousands of ancestors, that silently stands vigil between the Ritz balconies and the spectacular coastal vistas below.
Backed by General Manager Tom Donovan with support from corporate headquarters, the Ritz weekend is about being pono, as opposed to being profitable. The mostly free events, performances and hands-on art projects draw as many folks from the community as curious resort guests.
The opening protocol in the lobby entrance is a unique spectacle as Hawaiian ohana, halau and other groups, clad in traditional clothing and adornments, exchange chants before being admitted.
"This is real, it's not a performance," Nae'ole tells the hushed crowd filling the lobby. It's an ancient protocol, unfolding in the present moment.
The role of food in sustaining life as well as bringing people together was a recurring theme through the weekend. One panel discussion considered "Food Sovereignty Protecting the Old Seeds." Other events highlighted the Ritz's organic gardens. The culminating Celebration Lu'au & Show blended traditional and contemporary food preparations, and made the same leaps in its entertainment line-up, from the hula kahiko of kumu hula Pono Murray's Halau Na Wai Punalei to the jazzy Hawaiian swing band sounds of Kahulanui.
This year's celebration provided overlooked chapters of history, from warring island rulers centuries ago to "Under a Jarvis Moon," a documentary film chronicling young Hawaiian men sent to "colonize" remote South Pacific islands in the years leading up to World War II.
The celebration also provided reminders of the many ways nature is intertwined in the culture of Hawaii. It began in choppy waters under silver-edged clouds on Good Friday morning with Hiuwai, an immersion in the ocean to cleanse and "recalibrate"; followed by "E ala e," a chant to greet the sunrise on the beach. It culminated Sunday morning with children scurrying across resort lawns in pursuit of Easter eggs.
Throughout the weekend, eloquent speakers engaged in the fine art of talk story, the latest chapter in Hawaiian's still vibrant oral tradition.
Over more than two decades of exploring the traditions of Hawaii, COA has established some traditions of its own - reminding us that culture is richer for all of us when it is shared, which is always cause for celebration.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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