On the eve of the 22nd annual Celebration of the Arts, returning to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua Friday through Sunday, the resort's cultural adviser, Clifford Nae'ole, shares an amazing tale.
Clifford is the heart, soul and imagination of this mostly free event that's as easy to embrace as it is hard to encapsulate.
Is it a weekend immersion program in Hawaiian culture? An art event where YOU create the art? Ongoing performances of hula, music, oli and film? A memorable luau? An illuminating series of symposia on the most current topics in island life. A time for individual reflection about this island we live on . . . and our responsibilities to it?
Yes. All of the above. And more.
My own history with the COA goes all the way back to the first one, shortly after the west side resort opened. As much it's been a privilege to experience Ritz hospitality each year, it's also always an educational experience, and a sort of spiritual boot camp. Being the recipient of aloha from the descendants of the first inhabitants of this place we call home only highlights the limitations with which some of us newcomers receive it. But it's generously shared, nonetheless.
Over the years, Clifford has become my valued teacher, spiritual guide and trusted friend. He's also the central interview subject of "The Quietest Place on Earth," the new documentary produced by Tom Vendetti, Robert C. Stone and myself. It will have its preview screening at the celebration Friday night.
The celebration officially begins the following morning in darkness, in the moonlit surf of Honokahua Bay (aka D.T. Fleming Park). Participants enter the roiling black waves, emerging minutes later cleansed of the past before gathering on the beach to chant the sunrise with the hiuwai and e ala e ceremony and protocol.
The protocol is "a time to contemplate, reflect and come to terms with what each individual has done . . . good . . . bad . . . and worse," Clifford recently explained in a series of Facebook posts counting down to the celebration. Clifford also chants e ala e in our film, which reveals that the quietest place on Earth may be closer than you may think.
"It's a time to call upon those that were/are loved and have transitioned to the magical plane called 'Po.' Once they are called, it's our responsibility to watch, listen and learn from them as they WILL come. Our hearts and minds have to be open to receiving them and appreciating whatever message comes our way."
He recently did the protocol for two journalists visiting the Ritz. "They both braved the winds and the absolute downpour," he wrote. "I had warned them the night prior that this would take place 'rain or shine' and they both agreed that whatever happened, it would be their prescription towards wellness.
"We had finished the hiuwai and had just completed the e ala e chanting when out of the mist, a black lab ran down to the beach and right in front one of the journalists. She began to bawl and I panicked, thinking that she was afraid of dogs, especially this large one. But, she was crying tears of joy as she explained to me that she had just lost her beloved black lab of 16 years. He was very precious to her.
"The dog ran circles around her . . . and then ran off into the mist and vanished. No sign of an owner. No leash. She was crying out, 'It's my dog, it's Bandit!' She was overjoyed and thanked the creator for having another opportunity to be with him. Hiuwai . . . e ala e . . . a spiritual endeavor that is rewarding in different ways for different people. But rewarding nonetheless."
As much as the Ritz celebration is about art, it's also about a form of magic - not a tawdry illusion, but a glimpse into another dimension we can't fully understand, where our spirits soar.
Two years ago, Clifford graciously helped my family honor our father's memory on the hallowed Honokowai cliffs below the hotel. The lei each of us tossed into the sea formed a heart on the gently rocking water.
A month later, the theme of the Celebration of the Arts was aumakua - the Hawaiian belief that the spirits of departed ancestors return in living form. That Easter morning, I went for a swim on nearby Fleming Beach . . . where I was surrounded by a pod of dolphins.
A coincidence? Or something else, just beyond our comprehension, a glimpse of forces wondrous. Like the black lab running out of the mist.
For a complete schedule and more information, visit www.celebrationofthearts.org.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.