Great concern has been rampant about the lack of “Hawaii” in the so-called “Hawaiian” activities, merchandise and demonstrations witnessed throughout the island’s hotels. Such items like leis and bracelets being strung with shells from the Philippines or tropical print bags, dolls and pot holders bearing the status of “Made in China”—even many souvenirs sold to visitors in Hawaii are created in and sold from such places as Bali, Thailand.
As odd as it can be, much of what is offered as authentic “Hawaiian” arts and crafts is actually imported from other foreign countries and guests of the islands haven’t the slightest clue!
As a result, a lot of time and energy has been spent on allowing the “real” Hawaiian culture to stand out and become noticed by all those millions of people who come to Hawaii annually. For much too long, the tendency was to push touristy trends like torch lighting ceremonies, Polynesian dancing revues and flashy hotels—all of which were ultimately lacking in substance when authentic “Hawaiian” cultural experiences were what was really desired.
In 1998, the Kauai Heritage Center of Hawaiian Culture and the Arts opened—a 1,200 square-foot facility with a purpose to educate and create mind awareness for appreciation and respect of the true “Hawaiian” culture. Exhibits in the Center focus on the Hawaiian quilts, hand-carved fishing tools, hula instruments and implements, as well as a vast array of mats, fans and baskets, to name just a few. Most of the artefacts making up the exhibits are treasured heirlooms belonging to Hawaiian families for decades.
The Center also instructs hands-on classes that probe and discuss all aspects of a specific subject, i.e., hula, leaf printing and the Hawaiian language. These sessions also cover lei making techniques along with the sharing of its protocols and customs that span the entire experience— from the preparation of materials to the actual leis disposal.
Realizing that to preserve Hawaiian culture and perpetuate its message is a daunting undertaking, the Center’s goal is not one of just providing an activity exercise but to share information and knowledge so that responsibility is assigned to the participant. Thus, programs are constantly in the planning stages, including work shops teaching cultural insights inspired and motivated by Hawaiian themes. The presenters are artists and practitioners specializing in their specific field of expertise.
Special permission was granted by the owners of the historic Coco Palms in Wailua, heavily damaged in Hurricane Iniki in 1992, to the students of the Center to sketch its structures and lagoons. More lectures will be presented on ancient places of worship and on these lagoons—which were first used as fish ponds by the Royalty.
The Center will also organize cultural excursions, like taking 5th-6th graders to learn about Hawaii’s environment, it’s native plants and about conservation. The group size will be limited to anywhere from 6 to 30 people because of the impact on the sacred cultural sites.
With the advent of new technologies and conveniences, many of today’s Hawaiians have forgotten the value and wisdom of the “old ways”. So, a comprehensive training program aimed at Hawaiian Islands’ visitor industry—hotel employees and business organizations—commenced based on traditional Hawaiian values.
This training program offers 8 hours of instruction covering subjects on healing with herbs, sacred offerings, massage, music, proverbs and poetry.
Perpetuating the integrity of the Hawaiian culture is what the Center is all about. Its goal, in short, is to accomplish every- thing possible to keep Hawaii “Hawaiian”. There is a constant vigil to correct false and inaccurate representations of Hawaiian practices. Both visitors and locals alike are encouraged to discover the “real” Hawaii and not fall victim to activities referred to as “traditional” when in fact, they are “gimmicks for amusement”.