I had the privilege of attending the 2008 Celebration of the Arts held at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui. It was an experience that filled me with awe for the amazing talents of the artists and craftspeople in attendance. It was also an experience that I found disturbing.
The Celebration of the Arts provides an opportunity for island artists and craftspeople to demonstrate their talents and to share their knowledge with visitors to Hawaii as well as the numerous locals in attendance.
A significant part of the weekend, however, also consisted of panels which addressed many of the issues facing the people of Hawaiian blood who are, today, a minority in their own land. Topics included: Can Hawaiians Survive by Blood Alone?, Voices of the Future and The Voice of Responsible Journalism.
Perpetuating a CultureAs a travel writer one of my goals is to share with you the wonderful things that are going on to perpetuate the culture of the Hawaiian people as demonstrated at the Celebration of the Arts.
One panelist stressed the difference between the terms "preserving a culture" and "perpetuating a culture." It is a terrible mistake to discuss preserving Hawaiian culture. You preserve a culture that is dead and has to be remembered. You perpetuate a culture that still survives and, in the case of Hawaiian culture, is thriving today.
I have always said that every visitor to Hawaii has a duty to learn about the culture and history of the islands - including not only the culture and history of Native Hawaiian people but also that of the many other races who have contributed to the culture of Hawaii today.
A Sharing of Hawaiian CultureFrom the opening ceremony to the cultural and craft demonstrations and to the final Saturday night luau (which I regrettably missed), the Celebration of the Arts accomplishes its goal of sharing Hawaiian culture. I highly recommend that anyone on Maui during next year's event take time to experience specific parts of the celebration.
The PanelsThe difficult and most troubling part of the Celebration of the Arts for me was the panels. The vast majority of those in attendance at the forums were locals. Many of them were Native Hawaiians.
Instead of being true forums for discussion of the topics, the panels largely became platforms for those Hawaiians in attendance to express their dissatisfaction and, often, anger, at the plight of their people. As a haole, I found that anger very upsetting even though my experience in Hawaii understands why it exists. Many attendees clearly took to heart the theme of this year's event "The Power of the Voice."
While I understand the anger, I disagree with many Native Hawaiians on the appropriate solutions. I usually keep my opinions to myself since I am, after all, not only not Native Hawaiian but also not a resident of Hawaii.
Serious Concerns of the Hawaiian PeopleI do not at all feel that the issues facing Native Hawaiians are trivial. In fact they are quite significant - especially since the United States Government has acknowledged that the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 was illegal. Lands were stolen from the Hawaiian people. A sovereign nation was overthrown.
For many years I have avoided venues where the issues facing Native Hawaiians are discussed and often argued. I was not expecting to find myself involved in heated discussions about these issues at the Celebration of the Arts, but this is precisely what happened.
As a travel writer it is often hard for me to find a good balance between my role as an objective source of information on the visitor industry of Hawaii and advocate for visitors, and my strong personal opinions on many of the political and social issues facing the islands.
Looking to the FutureThe issue today, as it has been for over 100 years, is what should be done to make reparation for the events of 1893. Should all or part of Hawaii be returned to the Hawaiian people? Should an independent Hawaiian nation be established or should Native Hawaiians be allowed to form a partially autonomous nation within the United States?
An important part of any solution will be the interests and rights of the majority of Hawaii's residents who are not Native Hawaiians - many of whose ancestors arrived in Hawaii a hundred or even almost two hundred years ago. Most appear to be content to live in the United States of America. Many oppose the demands of the Native Hawaiian people.
Most travel writers, Hawaii guidebooks and other Internet sites will never mention that when you visit Hawaii you might come face to face with these very difficult and often troubling issues. You may find yourself suddenly involved in heated and even disturbing discussions that you had no prior intention of entering.
If you visit Hawaii, staying at your luxury resort or condominium, and only venture to the beach or on guided tours you will never hear about the significant issues facing the people of Hawaii today.
If, however, you take the time to venture beyond the normal tourist boundaries and speak to locals, especially those of Hawaiian blood, you'll learn that things aren't as happy as they may seem when you get the lei placed around you neck at the airport on arrival or when you are served you first Mai Tai at your hotel bar.
Suggestions for Future EventsOverall, I found the Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz Carlton Maui a valuable, if somewhat disturbing, experience. I do have some suggestions, however.
- While very moving, the Opening Ceremony was confusing to visitors. An explanation of what was happening needs to be given to the many visitors in attendance.
- The demonstrations of the numerous artists and skilled craftsmen were the best part of the Celebration of the Arts, but some were so hidden that many folks never found them.
- The panels left much too little room for true discussion and tended to become political platforms. More time is needed for questions of the panelists - not long statements of opinion. In all of the forums I attended, I saw no one who appeared to be a visitor called upon for a question. If the panels remain as they are currently conducted, visitors should be advised that the discussions might be upsetting.