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Two decades of aloha
March 27, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
To mark the 20th anniversary of its annual Celebration of the Arts, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua has chosen the theme, “Me Ke Aloha … With Aloha to all.”
Considering that “aloha” is the most used word identifying Hawaii to the rest of the world, you might wonder what more can be said on the subject.
Plenty, especially since the word is also so easily misused — misunderstood, at least —when it comes to all of its subtle meanings and implications.
“The theme came to me with the simple words, ‘Pay it forward,’ ” says Clifford Nae‘ole, cultural adviser for the Ritz, who has come to symbolize everything this unique event is all about. Indeed, Kathy Long’s portrait of Clifford is the poster image for this year’s three-day celebration of mostly free events that returns to the Ritz as it does every year, on Easter weekend, April 6 to 8.
For Clifford, aloha is something to give — without expecting anything in return.
“Never hold the aloha inside, never hold it back,” he says.
For him the celebration is personal this year, marking overcoming some serious health challenges in recent months.
“In my case, it was about regaining my health, and making allies doing it. So there's no holding in, it’s time to bust it out.”
Over its two decades, the Ritz celebration has evolved, from its initial focus on Art in the form of free hands-on workshops in its lobbies and hallways led by Village Galleries artists. Those sessions are still a big part of the daytime schedules on April 6 and 7. The faces of the children, along with adults, furrowed in concentration, lighting up with enthusiasm as they learn from master artists and artisans are works of art themselves.
But under Nae‘ole’s gentle, provocative guidance, the celebration’s focus has gradually shifted over the years to a lively mosaic of discussions, workshops, panels, films and other forums for examining the meaning of Hawaiian — past, present and future.
This year’s sessions encompass Henry Kapono guiding children to write lyrics and music in “The Rainbow Within You,” through “The History & Responsibilities of the Royal Hawaiian Guard” to “Aloha Lives in Distant Lands,” exploring commonalities in indigenous cultures around the planet. (For the complete schedule, check next week’s Maui Scene or visit www.celebrationofthearts.org.)
“Spirited” is the word that comes to mind to describe some of what goes on in the forums. Indeed, this Ritz — with unflagging support from its corporate offices — has provided an unlikely setting for soulful, challenging encounters, teaching moments, outpourings of love and revelations for all concerned. As much as the event is a gauge of Hawaiian culture, it’s a mirror in which you can’t help seeing yourself, too.
Over its 20 years, the Ritz celebration has written its own history. Young girls who once danced hula in the lobby or painted at those folding tables in the stately corridors now bring their own daughters to do the same.
And other voices that played such key roles in giving this event its unique identity have now gone silent.
“We lost three kumu this year,” Clifford points out — Cliff Pali Ahue, Akoni Akana and Charles Ka‘upu.”
Very different men, with strikingly different demeanors, “These three kumu had aloha for all in the spirit of their teachings,” he says.
Lessons learned at this unique gathering are far reaching.
“To me it signifies that we have a hotel that has come from controversial beginnings. Once the wrong was addressed to meet the needs of the Hawaiian people, the commitment has gone on for 20 years,” says Clifford.
And this year, “When people do alo-ha, now they will go deeper and come away with a different sense. It goes much deeper than putting a lei around the neck. People can come and chant their geneologies, discuss the past, present and future. It does not stop. It does not say, ‘We’ve done our best.’
“It goes on.” • Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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Kumu hula Charles Ka‘upu speaks at the opening of last year’s Celebration of the Arts at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Of the revered kumu who died a few months after this photo was taken, Clifford Na‘ole says, "The stature of Kumu Charles will be absent … but his lessons and voice shall continue with the pa'i (strike) of the pahu (drum) in perpetuity." The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN file photo