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THE NATURE OF THINGS - GET INTO THE SPIRIT OF MAUI
 
(2011 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: JANIE ROBINSON



From Maui’s sunny sea-kissed sandsto lunar-like landscapes of majestic Haleakala Crater and from Upcountry’s rolling pastoral hills to ancient oceanside fishponds, the seductive sway of the hula, the sunrise chant of the fishermen, and the slack-string strum of the guitars all share a common thread—nature.  

Traditional Hawaiians truly believe they are descendants of the kalo (taro) plant. Hawaiians will also tell you they are a natural people whose culture and traditions celebrate the guidance of “the ancient ones.” Life is about the ’aina and the aloha—the land and the spirit.

It’s the nature of things in Maui.

Paddling Ancient Fishpond

A haunting conch shell call and the rhythmic sunrise chant of e ala ewelcome paddlers aboard an iconic Hawaiian outrigger canoe for the unique Ko`ie`ie Fishpond Cultural Canoe Tour in South Maui.

“Native Hawaiian fishponds were originally designed for fresh food—our first refrigerators,” says guide Kimokeo Kapahulehua, as we glide by the gated boulder and stone wall embracing the more than 400-year-old fishpond.

“By studying nature, Hawaiians understood fish would gather around currents. So they built their fishponds to use that natural ebb and flow as a way to lure fish through the makaha (sluice gate), trapping the larger fish inside,” says Kapahulehua of his ancestors, who lived a life of self-subsistence with a diet of fish, seaweed, taro and fruit.

You don’t need paddling experience to enjoy this fascinating 90-minute outrigger canoe tour. Some quick basic lessons and the rhythmic Hawaiian canoe chant I ku mau mau inspire us to “work together for a single purpose and to do our best” while paddling these time-honoured canoes, which Hawaiians believe are living entities with spiritual connections.

Haleakala—House of the Sun

Shivering in Maui might sound like an oxymoron, but pack a parka, mitts and hat (or at least borrow a blanket from your hotel) for your sunrise journey from the Hawaiian tropics to the soaring summit of Haleakala—House of the Sun.

Watching the world wake up over the lunar-like landscape of this national park is teeth-chatteringly stunning—and for many, a spiritual experience. Ancient Hawaiians hiked up the vaulting volcano to perform rituals and burials on this lofty lookout where Maui (superman of Hawaiian myth) lassoed the sun and caused it to travel more slowly across the sky, giving Hawaii more sunshine to enjoy in a day.

Cowboy Country

Speaking of lassos, watch for Hawaiian cowboys here in Upcountry Maui, as you wind your way down the slopes from the three-kilometre-high summit (several tour companies will drive you all the way to the top so you can cycle back down from the entrance to the park). 

Stop by picturesque Makawao, once a rough-and-tumble cowboy town. Nowadays, old-timers and new agers share the colourful main street, offering up everything from a general store and old-fashioned barber shop, to fine art galleries, health food stores and trendy restaurants.

Grab one of the best burgers you’ll ever eat, while sharing picnic tables with real cowboys on the shady veranda of the Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill. Maui’s second-largest cattle ranch is a great place to sample local wines and learn all about Hawaii’s rich paniolo(cowboy) heritage as well.

“This traditional paniolosaddle was made for my grandfather back in the late 1800s,” says ranch manager Jimmy Gomes of his family heirloom now proudly displayed in the Ulupalakua Ranch store.“Hawaiian saddles are distinctive by the braiding of the leatherwork. Even from island to island the style of braiding is unique to each location.”

Hawaiian cowboys got their start back in the early 1800s, when Mexican vaqueroswere brought to the islands to help corral the out-of-control cattle population. The colourful cowboys also brought along their saddles, boots and guitars.

“These vaqueroswould teach the Hawaiians how to manage the cattle by day, and by night they’d bust out their guitars,” says Grammy Award-winning slack-key guitarist George Kahumoku Jr., who performs weekly at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.

“When the vaquerosleft the islands, they left a few guitars behind. The Hawaiians didn’t know how to tune them, so they slackened or loosened the strings and combined the three Spanish guitar styles to play all on one guitar,” continues Kahumoku whose panioloancestor inherited one of those Spanish guitars from the vaqueros—a cherished heirloom still in his family today.

“There are hundreds of tunings. We can actually tell what island you’re from, even from what village, by how you tune your guitar,” Kahumoku says of the beautiful, solo finger-picking acoustic guitar style, unique to Hawaii. 

Every Hula Tells a Story

Breathtakingly beautiful hula is the most popular of Hawaii’s performing arts, and when set in the gorgeous oceanside setting of Old Lahaina Luau, the traditional hula and feast is a wonderfully entertaining and educational evening of authentic Hawaiian culture and history.

“Every hula tells a story,” explainsKawika Freitas, general manager of Old Lahaina Luau. “Listen to the oli(chant) and mele(song), to the implements and instruments, and take in every move the dancers make with their feet, their hands, their hips, their eyes.” 

Try your hand (and hips) at hula dancing and lei making at Kaanapali Beach Hotel. “While I help guests learn the steps and create their lei, I also help them learn about our culture,” says Guest Services’ Malihini Keahi, a Lahaina native whose “aunties” taught her hula dancing and lei making when she was a child. “I love sharing my Hawaiian traditions with guests. If you don’t pass them on, they don’t live on.”

The graceful Keahi can also be found sharing her talents and traditions at the hotel’s complimentary hula each evening. “When I dance, there’s another spirit that rejuvenates me,” she explains. “Feeling the song, allowing my spirit to take hold of the song. That’s a whole different world for me—a spiritual world.”

 
 
 
 
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