Addressing participants on the eve of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s 26th annual Celebration of the Arts last Thursday, kumu hula Hokulani Holt told everyone to remember to thank a teacher sometime over the weekend.
Fitting words for this unique event where everyone’s a teacher . . . and everyone’s a learner. A sense of appreciation — in this case for anyone who ever taught us a lesson — is one of the many values instilled by this gathering at the stately resort on the island’s dramatic northern coast.
“Ma ka hana ka ‘ike — in work there is knowledge” — was the theme this Easter weekend. People I see only a few times a year — like Jocelyn Fujii, Brad Shields, Erik Blair, Deanna Miller, Karin Jucker, Shannon Wianecki, Mike Yasak, Kili Namau’u, Kainoa Horcajo, Diane Haynes Woodburn — have become valued friends at this illuminating, always fun-filled gathering.
Iokepa Nae’ole officially got it started on D.T. Fleming Beach before dawn Good Friday morning. Kepa conducted the Hiuawai and E Ala E protocols — immersion in the ocean followed by chanting the sun’s rise over the beach. A wise old soul disguised as a smiling waterman, Kepa likened the protocol to“clearing our hard drive,” to find clarity, openness, humility.
To remember our place in it all, you might say.
Diving into the inky water, then chanting the sunrise are spiritual acts. The power of the ocean, the beauty of the landscape under a sky lightening from darkness to color provide the cathedral.
But it’s Kepa’s brother, Clifford Nae’ole, whose fertile mind and generous heart give shape to the Celebration each year. The spirits of thousands of ancient ancestors buried under the Honokahua mound that stands silent sentry on the Ritz property are his source.
They keep him honest, they keep him inspired. He is their messenger, bringing their light back to life.
There were aha moments talking story with Linda Morgan, who actually created the first Celebration 26 years ago, and Patrick Kilbride, along with Kathy and Bertil Long, Cheryl Tsutsumi and Rick McDonald.
The panel discussions are always high points; my favorite was on small business, Native Hawaiian style, featuring the wit and wisdom of Kapono’ai Molitau, Amy Hanaiali’i, Pono Murray and Teri Gorman, moderated by Kawika Freitas.
The panelists shared tips for entrepreneurs — choose something you love, find a mentor, sweat the details, do it well. But it was equally enjoyable just to be in the presence of such charismatic, funny, articulate personalities.
Each year, Clifford & Co., tweak different pieces of the puzzle. This time, the Celebration of Island Tastes luau and Celebration After Hours nightclub came into their own. The luau is now produced by local families and vendors, who serve up authentic local foods in a casual, almost family setting, then donate the proceeds to worthy causes.
The After Hours venue transforms the resort ballroom into a chic, pastel-lit, white-on-white nightclub presided over by emcee Alaka’i Paleka in hilarious fashion. Saturday’s music bill featured the talents of Ikaika Blackburn and Na Hoa, Josh Kahula’s Nuff Sed and others, plus impromptu hula from audience members and some songs from surprise guest, the legendary Marlene Sai.
Ritz General Manager Mike Kass deserves lots of props, not only for making the After Hours bar free each night and showing his moves on the crowded dance floor, but more for his enthusiastic, full-throated support of Clifford’s vision and intention each year.
Over the years, I’ve likened the Ritz Celebration to a Hawaiian immersion program for adults, a boot camp for the soul, and a graduate course in the values, wisdom and culture of the first people who found their way to these islands more than 1,500 years ago.
But while the Celebration is about all things Hawaiian, the lessons it teaches are in all things human.
One word recurring through the Celebration was “kuleana” — the privilege of responsibility.
The same weekend, writer/director Brian Kohne’s film “Kuleana” opened in theaters on Maui and across the state. Local audiences finally got to see this long-awaited mystery-drama set in the early days of Hawaiian statehood that was produced and filmed entirely on Maui two years ago.
After a boffo opening weekend at the Regal Maui Mall Megaplex and The Wharf Cinema Center, on Friday at 9 a.m., “Kuleana” cast and crew members will be honored with a County Council proclamation. And the movie will hit Hollywood on May 8, at the prestigious Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Regal is extending “Kuleana’s” run statewide, and expanding the number of theaters showing it.
“On the Mainland, it’s an arthouse film,” says Brian. “In Hawaii, it’s mainstream.”
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at [email protected]