Do you love all things coconut? Then come to the Grand Wailea on Friday and Saturday, as it cracks open its inaugural Niu Festival.
Outdoors on the lush grounds, you'll find out why the ancient Polynesians revered the fibrous husks with large seeds, sweet white meats and cooling juices as one of the most important items in their lives.
"For Polynesians, the coconut provided the basics of life," says Hawaiian cultural practitioner Kahu Lyons Kapi'ioho'okalani Naone. "Before the great Pacific migration, Ku (the Hawaiian god of prosperity) sent coconuts on the ocean so when the voyagers landed, they would be there to sustain them. The nuts were an immediate source of pure water, food, shelter, fiber, building materials, even fuel."
Marco Marinas and Kelson Kihe (from left) will do cultural demonstrations on shucking, frond weaving and sinnet braiding.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
"Niu" is the Hawaiian word for "coconut," and this event will dish up not only foods made from and with it along with live music, cooking contest with celebrity judges, fun cultural demos, a shopper's marketplace and much more.
"Growing up in Hawaii, there weren't very many cultural events of any significance," says Kainoa Horcajo, event coordinator and advisory member.
"Then, when they first started, they were the Blue Hawaii, Riki-Tiki style of events. "The first real ones that put significance on the Hawaiian culture were Aloha Week and the Celebration of the Arts. This Niu Festival will show how much better we are getting in perpetuating the past."
Niu Festival at a glance:
* Where: Outdoors on the grounds of Grand Wailea.
* When: Friday opens with an awa ceremony at 11 a.m. and at 7 p.m., there will be a free screening of "Papa Maui: The Wayfinder." On Saturday, events run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with Coconut Cook-off, demos, live music, food booths and marketplace.
* How much: Free and open to the public. Festival proceeds from sales in the marketplace and food booths will benefit Hui O Wa'a Kaulua, Maui's only double-hull voyaging canoe. Buy spa items, crafts and more.
* For more details:?You may visit www.niufestival.com or call Grand's concierge at 875-1234.
For instance, the Niu Festival offers a sense of place. That's because Wailea Resort lies within the ahupua'a (land division) called Pae'ahu, which means "the altar of embarking."
"Wailea Beach provides direct access to the Kealaikahiki Channel, or 'the way to Tahiti,' and the immediate area was once called Niukauila, a small fishing village named for the 'ceremony of the coconut.' " continues Horcajo, who formerly worked as a media liaison on Capitol Hill.
"Even the festival's date is significant, scheduled the day after Lolopua (also called Lahaina Noon). This is truly a twice-yearly phenomenon that happens only in the tropics when the sun is exactly overhead and the shadows disappear."
So the Niu Festival will kick off at 11:30 a.m. Friday, considered a sacred time by Hawaiians. When the sun's apex will be overhead, an 'awa ceremony will commence on Grand Wailea's Chapel Lawn. It will be by invitation only, but spectators are invited to respectfully observe.
"Following the ritual, all will be welcome to taste 'awa, a traditional beverage made from the root of a pepper plant."
Friday night at 7 in the resort's Haleakala Ballroom, filmmaker Na'alehu Anthony will host a free screening of his award-winning film, "Papa Mau: The Wayfinder."
"It's a feature-length documentary that takes a retrospective look at the revival of non-instrument navigation in Hawai'i, rooted in the knowledge of Mau Piailug, a native from the tiny atoll of Satawal in Micronesia covered only with coconut trees," says Teri Freitas Gorman, also on the advisory board for the festival.
But the meat of the matter kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the resort's Molokini Lawn with Hawaiian pomp and circumstance and a welcome chat by Mayor Alan Arakawa and Grand Wailea's Managing Director Matt Bailey.
Just make sure to bring your appetites and get ready to listen to some music. Led by Grammy-winner George Kahumoku, Jr., the UH Maui Institute for Hawaiian Music kicks off the non-stop entertainment at 10:15 a.m. Hawaiian slack-key artists Ola Hou, the Tahitian dancers of Tihati Productions, and headliner, the award-winning Hawaiian falsetto singer Kamakakehau Fernandez, will take the stage later.
The hotel's Executive Chef Eric Faivre will tempt you with festival foods including Chef Eric's Niu Salad and Coconut Fish or Chicken & Chips.
"Those seeking a frozen treat on a hot South Maui day may also enjoy Lappert's Hawai'i Handmade Ice Cream in Original Coconut or Coconut Macadamia Nut Fudge flavors," says Horcajo.
"Thirst quenchers will include ice cold Green Coconut Water au natural (punctured coconuts in their husks served with a straw) sold by Hui O Wa'a Kaulua, or the healthy and energizing Kona Red Coconut Water. Those over the age of 21 can enjoy a refreshing Coconut Porter Beer or an Inu Niu Cocktail, a magical concoction of Okolehao (ti plant liqueur) coconut rum, amaretto, lemon-lime, and pineapple."
The Coconut Cook-off will also be a big draw at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The celebrity judges are Pamela Young of KITV News; Hawaiian Regional Cuisine Chef Alan Wong of the resort's Amasia and Grand Wailea Executive Chef Faivre.
"We already have an entry called the Pina Colada Pizza," says Horcajo. "We're still trying to figure out if it's in the dessert or main dish category."
Stroll the grounds and check out various lectures and demonstrations, such as the ones by Hatota Tehiva, Anela Benson, and Kahunali'i Bula Logan.
"Hatota hails from the island of Hikueru, located in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. He brings his rich knowledge, skills and talents of the Polynesian people to Niu Festival.
Benson is a Hokulea crew member and an expert in traditional ocean navigation; and Logan is a medicinal plant healer.
"It's amazing how many health benefits and medicinal applications you can find in the coconut," says Horcajo. "In other words, it's one of the most useful trees on earth. Even in its dying years, it can be stripped and made into weapons and drums.
"The coconut is revered. It's truly THE tree of life."