Another year, more to celebrate.
Considering that I've been to all 22 of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua's annual Celebrations of the Arts, what's amazing is that it's never the same. There are always new lessons to learn, there are always epiphanies, and almost always rainbows.
After happening on Easter weekend for two decades, the Ritz shortened the activities by a day and moved them to Mother's Day weekend this year. Pushing back those two weeks meant the morning sky was brighter when we jumped into the ocean at daybreak for the cleansing and renewing ritual of hiuwai. The sun was higher in the sky by the time we finished chanting "E Ala E."
Then came the awa ceremony for Ritz managers, kupuna, practitioners and a few invited guests, where each of us sitting on the lauhala mat had to declare our commitment to support Hawaiian culture, before draining the bitter yet soothing liquid from the gourd placed in our hands.
In years past, it was kumu hula Charles Kaupu presiding over the protocol, catching me in the crosshairs of his disapproving stare. Now it's kumu hula Hokulani Holt's stern gaze I face as I make my pledge.
The awa ritual carries responsibility to the spirits of Honokahua, the ancient burial mound on the Ritz property, explained Clifford Nae'ole, the celebration's chairman whose soul and imagination set its tone. "It means you're all in for another year," he said.
Amid its formal protocols, presentations and hands-on arts projects, the event has also become an annual "same time next year" occasion for catching up with old friends.
There are fellow journalists like Diane Haynes Woodburn and Rita Goldman from Maui No Ka Oi, and Jocelyn Fujii, Lynn Cook and her husband, Richard, making their yearly jaunt over from Oahu. We're all linked by the ink still running through our veins, despite the shared knowledge that the communication biz is becoming more digital by the day. No paper necessary any more; now the words take root on a screen only temporarily, before disappearing into the ether.
Diane's husband, Jamie Woodburn, and I talked story about the big news in Kula these days - the rain almost every afternoon for the past several months, and the goats in the pastures of Haleakala Ranch. Some with clanging bells around their necks, they bleat in an almost comical parade under the watchful eyes of shepherds on ATVs and big, barking dogs. They're living, breathing weed-eaters, literally. The dogs look huge, furry and lovable from my deck, but word is to keep your distance. They're powerful, single-minded and not friendly to anything that's not a goat.
Teri Freitas Gorman was there for the opening protocol, and to catch up with afterwards. As a panelist at a past celebration, she taught us that Hawaiian culture and the culture of Hawaii are not the same thing.
There was a happy update from Karen Fischer, whose years at the helm of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center led nicely into her new Pasifika Artists Network, bringing many favorite island performers to audiences around the world. George Allan was on hand with his wife, Janet, signing this year's poster, soulfully capturing the theme, "Ka makou alanui kupuna - Our ancestral paths."
I also shared some laughs with film writer-director-producer Brian Kohne, there meeting with the stars of his upcoming film, "Kuleana" - multitalented Keo Woolford and vivacious Lea Krieg.
Along with its artists and presenters, celebration audiences are full of folks trying to express our gratitude for existence here in our own artistic ways. Maui does that to you. Being part of it calls for paying it back, or forward, as creatively as we can.
The Celebration of the Arts keeps finding new ways of dealing with all things Hawaiian - which is just another way of saying, all things human.
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It was at last year's celebration that I first met Erik Blair, a good guy to know for any number of reasons. He's a social media maven, an expert consultant and guide in the digital domain. He's got his thumbs on the pulse of island life on his erikeverywhere.com website. He's also a passionate pathfinder and champion of new ways of thinking about stuff.
Last time I heard from him, he was posting photos from Keao Shaw and Iwa Hartman's sleek Kainani Sails 43-foot yacht. Photo visionary Randy Braun was also aboard, flying his camera drones, when they spotted a trio of whales, an exciting rarity at this time of year.
But Erik's main mission these days is Tiny Houses, possibly a very creative solution to Maui's affordable housing shortage. Read more about it on his site.
* 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 rickchatenever@ gmail.com or 344-9535.