One of the great tragedies of history is when a culture dies. It's nothing new and nothing that will likely ever stop happening. In some places, such as Europe, we are seeing a gradual blending of people and cultures that were once fierce enemies. In our own country, the United States, many Native American tribes are almost extinct.
White men and women like me and many of you made a concerted effort to destroy the Hawaiian culture. The religion, language, dance and most customs were found to be unacceptable to those who arrived in these islands to show the people what they considered to be a better way to live.
Renaissance of Hawaiian Culture
If not for the courageous Hawaiians who, despite threats to their very existence, kept the culture alive for much of the first two hundred years after Captain Cook first arrived in Hawaii in 1778, Hawaiian culture would have died.
As visitors first began to arrive in Hawaii in the 20th century, many found the scant remnants of the culture quaint and perhaps strange enough to be somehow attractive.
Hawaiian culture was something that tourists would enjoy. It certainly was nothing to take seriously. It was only of value as a commercial product, certainly not worth keeping for Hawaiians.
Then something surprising happened. Where hundreds, likely thousands, of earlier cultures simply disappeared, Hawaiians refused to let their culture die.
The latter part of the twentieth century saw a renaissance of Hawaiian culture.
It likely started with music and dance, and then a language that was banned from schools began to be taught again. Other aspects of the culture, which dates back well over a thousand years, once again became a source of pride instead of something of which to be ashamed.
Survival of the Culture Depends on the Children
If, however, the culture is to survive and indeed thrive well into this new century, it must take root in the children, the keiki.
Unless the children of Hawaii embrace the culture, it will die. It really doesn't matter whether they're mostly of Hawaiian blood or a member of that great melting pot of people that make up most of Hawaii's people today. Surprisingly, they may even be children from a far off land who simply honor and love the culture.
Those of you who have followed this site for the past decade know how important I feel it is to take some time to learn a bit about the culture of the people of Hawaii before you visit these islands and, most definitely, while you're here. Without that small effort, you're simply visiting a lovely paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What makes Hawaii special are its people, period.
Ka'anapali Beach Hotel
As I've said many times before, no place in Hawaii has a better grasp of the importance of sharing the culture with visitors to the islands than the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel on Maui.
It's easy to view their signage and ads claiming that they're "Maui's most Hawaiian hotel" and just smile and dismiss it as just some hospitality company hype. The fact is, however, it's not hype at all. It's a way of life and perhaps, more amazingly, it's core to the way their business operates.
While some hotels offer some cultural activities here and there as "the right thing to do," perpetuating the culture is core to everything that they do at the hotel.
That brings us to what I'll call an annual "celebration" at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel. It's called Hula O Na Keiki (Dance of the Children). It's much more than a contest and certainly much more than an annual event.
Hula O Na Keiki
The hotel explains this much better than I could.
"Hula O Na Keiki is a solo hula competition for children ages 5-17 held at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel. Participants are required to learn, interpret, and perform a Maui chant. The competition is one facet of a three-day event designed to allow participants the opportunity to learn about, and nurture Hawaiian cultural values. This gives each student a sense of appreciation for the past and a deeper sense of identity with their Hawaiian ancestors."
Now, I'm not so naive as to not realize that any hotel is in the business of making money and this annual event fills the hotel each November. It is however a fact that the hotel does not see this event as a big money-maker. Nightly admission prices to Hula O Na Keiki are about a quarter of what you'd pay to attend a Maui luau where you'd get much less entertainment and, often, much less appreciation for the culture. At intermission you could eat for almost nothing by most Maui dining standards.