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There’s More to Maui than Sun and Surf

Andrea Gross | Mar 4, 2013, 11:01 a.m.

Allegiant recently announced, too, new, nonstop jet service between Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Honolulu International Airport (HNL) beginning Feb. 8. The company, known for its exceptional travel deals, introduced the new service with fares as low as $199 one way. But those seats are limited.

Expensive? Yes. A hassle? True. But Hawaii offers us more than a chance to slather ourselves with suntan lotion. It allows us to experience the heart and soul of a different culture.

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A chant, accompanied by rhythmic drumbeats, honors the elders.

Nae’ole bristles when I ask him if the morning dip and subsequent drum ceremony were just the opening shots in a faux festival, designed to capitalize on the current interest in heritage travel. “These activities are as real as it gets,” he says firmly. “I would not dare create, invent or dilute our culture. My ancestors would not allow it. What you are experiencing is authentic and perpetuates all things Hawaiian.”

The celebration began in 1992, the outgrowth of a controversy that could have been disastrous but instead, because of cool heads and sensitive actions on both sides, resulted in warm feelings and a real sense of community.

When construction began on The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1987, workers discovered that the hotel site was on ancient burial grounds. Work stopped for three years while the dead were re-interred and the hotel redesigned. Subsequently, the hotel made a commitment to introduce guests to the history and values of the host culture with activities such as craft displays, films on the marine environment and walks along bougainvillea-lined paths to the old burial site.

The days whirl by, a three-ring circus of demonstrations, performances and workshops. I create a necklace from shells and flowers, my husband learns to blow a nose flute, and we attend a lecture on Hawaiian herbal healing. In between, we watch dancers perform different styles of hula—from the old-style hula kahiko in which they depict ancient Hawaiian legends and are accompanied by percussion instruments to the less formal hula ‘auana in which their movements are more fluid and are accompanied by stringed guitars and ‘ukuleles. We even see the hula hapa haole or westernized hula, in which the singing is done in English.

The celebration culminates with a giant lu’au that I’m told is traditional in every way. It’s the only part of the weekend that disappoints. The lu’au is so authentic that I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand the songs, which are sung in Hawaiian and, after sampling a variety of mysterious foods, I go back to my room.

The next day we set out for the town of Lahaina, partly to see the giant Banyan tree that rises 60 feet into the air—20 feet taller than a good-size saguaro—and partly to peruse the galleries, many of which feature local crafts and scrimshaw. It’s the scrimshaw, an art practiced by sailors in the mid-1800s, that interests me most.

Lahaina was a major whaling port in those days, frequented by sailors who whiled away long days on board by engraving pictures on the bones and teeth of sperm whale. They called these carvings “scrimshaw” after a Dutch expression that means “to waste time.” When the ship finally docked in Lahaina, the sailors sold their carvings and used the money to relax in other, more boisterous, ways.

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