Thursday, May 5, 2011
The essential element that really attracted me to Kaua'i was its history and culture. Not the legendary beauty. Not the cliffs and canyon. As the oldest of Hawaii's islands, Kaua'i cradles the ancient legacy of Hawaiian culture and traditions and I felt compelled to discover it. The annual Prince Kuhio Celebration, held every March in observance of Prince Kuhio day on March 26, provides one of the best ways to experience Hawaiian heritage personally. Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole Pi'ikoi pictured above, was born in 1871 and was known as the people's prince. He worked to uphold Hawaiian rights and culture after the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1883 . Prince Kuhio was the first Hawaiian elected to the the U.S. Congress and served for 10 years. He also established the Hawaiian Home Commission, which preserved land for native Hawaiians. Although he died in 1922, Prince Kuhio's legacy of preserving traditional Hawaiian practices remains vibrant. The 9-day celebration highlights aspects of Hawaiian food, music, dance, history and rituals.
I attended a royal dinner and Hawaiian fashion contest that featured classic Hawaiian music played on ukele's and traditional dishes including lau lau, which is savory bundles of fish or pork wrapped in taro leaves, poi and haupia or coconut pudding. Besides the special Prince Kuhio drink which was a delightful concoction of coconut and macadamia nut liquor whipped up with cream, coconut and pineapple juice, I most enjoyed the music and the stories that went along with them. Haunani Kaui , a popular singer and musician above, serenaded us the whole night.I learned the words to my favorite Hawaiian song, "Kuu home O Kahaluu" by Jerry Santos, as well as that a true Hawaiian meal will Brok Da Mout or taste really good.
I witnessed many Hawaiian rituals, including royal dances and chants. The dancers above performed a dance that showcased the elegance of a royal performance. The feathered standards are called kahili and represent royal lineage. Red and yellow are the Hawaiian royal colors and they are featured in any royal protocol, which is why the dancers wear long ruby-colored dresses. Their rigid arms are hallmarks of hula kahiko, the ancient hula that differs from the contemporary hula auana, which focuses on undulating hips and expressive arms. Hula kahiko is only performed with chants and percussion.
In Hawaiian culture, elders are respectfully called auntie and uncle. All of the people seated above, are also beloved kahunas or teachers and experts. It can also mean a priest or spiritual leader They all wear fragrant maile leis, or open leis that come from vines that grow at an elevation of 3,000 feet in the Hawaiian islands. A maile lei denotes honor and is the lei of royalty. Uncle Nathan, on the left, passes down the traditions of chanting and traditional dance. He astounded me by chanting all the names of eight generations of his family on his father's side. Auntie Janet, beside him, is noted for teaching ancient salt making techniques as well as a host of other traditions. Auntie Stella is probably the best known kahuna on Kaua'i. Every time I asked about Kaua'i history or culture, her name was the first to be recommended. She helps spearhead the Prince Kuhio Celebration and taught me many things that I'm still absorbing.