'Hawaiian things are not lost. But the fields need to be weeded, and the river needs to flow."
That was cultural practitioner and artist Sam Ka'ai speaking at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua's Celebration of the Arts last weekend.
His comments followed the showing of "Na Ki'i O Ka Wa Kahiko," a stunning film made of photographic images by Shane Tegarden, with Ka'ai providing the narration.
The Maui News / RICK CHATENEVER photo
Celebration of the Arts Chairman Clifford Nae‘ole stands at the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua as drum maker Keoni Turalde chants outside the doorway.
"Hawaiian things" are what this unique celebration is all about. These things take all forms, from traditional art like Ka'i creates, to wisps of thought as fleeting and invisible - and yet as powerful - as the wind.
The title of Tegarden's "Na Ki'i O Ka Wa Kahiko" means something like "pictures of the old ways." But those words don't do justice to this multimedia presentation that uses cutting-edge digital photographic techniques to deconstruct the modern world into its ancient origins as Ka'ai's trance-inducing poetry "explains" what's going on.
There are 13 images, pristine and luminous. They depict day-to-day life eons before clocks, when time meant something we can't understand now. The people in the pictures, dressed in ancient garb, go about their lives. Fishing. Cultivating taro. Pounding tapa cloth. Applying tattoos. Embarking into the surf on boards. Contemplating the heavens where the stars burn like spots of fire.
Sounds of wind and waves along with haunting drums and flutes accompany a movie camera as it explores each photo. The resolution is so high, the depth of field so infinite, you get lost in the veins of kalo leaves in the foreground, or in the misty valleys of a distant mountain range, its knifelike ridges cutting into a bright blue sky.
And then there's Ka'ai's voice, intertwining words of English and Hawaiian. It's history, or is it poetry? His mo'olelo or stories are here to explain but to hear is to lose yourself in a dream.
Their meanings lie just beyond the grasp of minds too well-schooled in Western ways. They are not here to be "understood," but to be entered, portals into a world we've only heard of, but have never seen before.
Artists, cultural practitioners, leaders and teachers have been bringing their "Hawaiian things" to the Ritz every Easter weekend for the past 17 years. It falls to Clifford Nae'ole to put them together.
The chairman of this event, he also provides its vision, its soul and its generous heart. On a weekend associated with renewal and rebirth for different cultures around the planet, Celebration of the Arts brings its Hawaiian participants together to share, with each other and with those who want to learn.
"It's about who we are, who we were and who we want to be," Clifford told a gathering of the presenters.
Some of the most striking Hawaiian things at this year's celebration were words.
Economic news of late cast a long shadow over this year's event, affecting culture, tourism and the media that cover them. Economic forces have been humbling for all. Perhaps in response, the Celebration stayed away from edgy political topics of some past years, in favor of fragile optimism and hope.
"Lucky we live Hawaii" was the theme of several presentations and activities. But here, too, echoes of the past and realities of the present made their own contributions to the discussion.
Those words were the title of a presentation by Ramsay Taum, a cultural specialist and consultant to the tourism industry who will be back on Maui April 24 as one of the participants in a forum, "Sustainable Tourism Pathways for Maui Nui," from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Maui Community College's Pilina Student Lounge. (It's free and open to the public.)
While Taum regularly consults with the state's business, academic and governmental leaders on nuts-and-bolts issues of economy and ecology, his topic this day had everything to do with the meanings of the words he used.
Ohana. Aloha. Mana. The very name Hawaii. He took the words apart, finding the meanings, the power, the embedded in the syllables. For him, "Lucky you live Hawaii" wasn't a cute slogan - well, it was that, too - but more a way of tapping into the life force we share living in this place, and this mental space, in the middle of "the blue continent" of the Pacific.
Taum led his listeners to grasp what he was saying in deep new ways, from the natural to the spiritual, "Lucky you live. Hawai'i."
Those thoughts, that inspiration, ran through the remainder of the celebration as the mood shifted to the evening's luau with hula and musical performances.
As opposed to looking at Hawaiian culture as something separate and exclusive, Taum made it instead, something inclusive, a way of life, something to share.
There was the sense that we're all in this together that shaped this year's celebration.
In other words, a Hawaiian way of looking at things.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.