Kapalua, May 7–AS WE APPROACH 10,000 VIEWS ON JOYS OF KAANAPALI , we salute two remarkable Hawaiians have have played a central role in creating the Celebration of the Arts, a must attend this weekend if you are here on the island.
Both were profiled in my Lahaina News columns and both appear in my books.
Published April, 2007
THE CULTURAL ADVISOR
Open the gate and come to the Ritz
WHEN THE ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF THE ARTS opens each year at the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Kanaka Maoli and resort Cultural Advisor Clifford Nae’ole will be near center stage. The festival planned by Nae’ole is a must-attend annual event for anyone who wants an introduction or continuing education in Hawaiian culture.
A spiritual sunrise ceremony at 5:30 a.m. Friday welcomes the day. Later, hula will be performed. Hawaiians will demonstrate ancient crafts. Kupuna in full regalia will offer opening prayers. Stimulating 90-minute discussions will take place on everything from the sensual meanings in hula to tourism and culture. In my view, this continues to be one of the premier cultural events on Maui.
One of only four resort cultural advisors in the state, Nae’ole has a heritage that uniquely qualifies him for the job. Some 210 years ago, a Nae’ole ancestor was a warrior king so trusted by Hawaiian royalty that he was charged with bringing up the future great King Kamehameha I, uniter of the Hawaiian Islands. Yet the usually mild mannered, now spiritual Clifford almost turned his back on his own culture.
Growing up near Waihe’e, north of Wailuku, on the taro fields farmed by his grandfather and father, Nae’ole remembers running through taro patches and picking huge sweet guava off the trees, playing in the mud and having fun while his hardworking parents did the tough work of putting food on the table.
After graduation from high school in Wailuku, Clifford was taken aside by his grandfather and told it was time for Kou Manawa, your turn as a hiapo (first born, first born, of first born) to continue the legacy of farming.
Clifford refused, aspiring to be a travel agent – an idea he later abandoned–and took off for the good life in California, where he married a lady from England. “Why did I marry her? Because,” he joked, remembering his royal heritage, “England still has a king and queen.”
When Nae’ole left Maui, he was told by his grandfather, “You’ve chosen to dine on the buffet of life.” Coming back after 12 years, Clifford said, “the table was empty.
“The land was lost. It really hit hard, but what I have accomplished since would make my grandfather proud.”
Nae’ole sought to find his culture, starting with hula lessons, then language, chants and finally embracing Hawaiian spirituality. “My son was enrolled in Hawaiian immersion language school. One day he asked for help on his homework. His textbook was written in Hawaiian. I spoke zero. I knew aloha and mahalo and that was it,” he explained. This is the man whose voice mail today starts and ends with Hawaiian. (Incidentally, he now considers himself a Kanaka Maoli—one, in his definition, who lives the old culture.).
Clifford’s renaissance—a work in progress, much like today’s Hawaiian Renaissance of things cultural—is still underway because he says he still has much to learn.
Hired by the Ritz-Carlton as a telephone operator two weeks before the resort opened in 1992, Clifford took inspiration from the iwi, the bones of 2,000 Hawaiians whose discovery and preservation led legendary landowner Colin Cameron to move the location of his hotel.
Pushing the general manager to do even more by the culture, Clifford was quickly promoted to full-time cultural advisor—as he puts it, “the best job in the world.”
“As cultural advisor, I have the opportunity to create bridges to reconnect the host culture to those we host (our visiting guests). I serve as the link between the Hawaiian community and the hotel on things cultural” he noted. This ranges from little things like correcting spelling of Hawaiian words on menus to supporting Aloha Festivals and this weekend’s free Celebration of the Arts.
“Our purpose,” he continued, “is to help visitors and those who live here understand our culture better through the lure of art, intellectual discussion, panels and films, music.
“There will be timely discussion of timely topics but no confrontation. Say to people what you believe, we tell panelists, but listen to others’ points of view.”
Nae’ole notes that Hawaiians “want understanding of who we are and what we can become, and understanding of the injustices that have been done and continue to this day.
“I am not a Hawaiian according to law. This hurts me deeply. You are a Native Hawaiian with a capital ’N’ and capital ’H’ only if you have 50 percent Hawaiian blood, and I do not.”
Clifford added, “Those who are born here and choose to live here are part of the solution. If you are living in a gated community, the question is, are you keeping people out, or are you keeping yourself in? You worked hard and you deserve what you have but don’t lock yourself out. My job is to tell a story and get someone to tell that story to someone else.” The stories will be at the Ritz this weekend. See you at the celebration.
THE CULTURAL ICON: Charles Ka’upu
1957 to 2011
A special moment: the passing of a Legend
ON A BEAUTIFUL late August Saturday morning in 2011, with waves pleasantly lapping to announce their arrival on the shore, a slight breeze wafting through, catamarans bobbing gently in the ocean, Maui and Hawaii commemorated in memorable manner a man who has done as much as anyone to celebrate Hawaiian culture.
Charles Kauai Ka‘upu Jr. — a giant of a man in more ways than one—was a revered cultural practitioner, master chanter, former cook and master of ceremonies for 22 years at Old Lahaina Luau. One of the founders of the Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, one-time KPOA disc jockey known as “Bushman,” Charles as a kumu hula mentored dancers on Maui, Kauai and Japan.
At the Ritz celebration of Hawaiian culture, one of my first conversations with this imposing, large man years ago began with this question and a gesture to the heart: “Why would a guy from Chicago feel so passionate about Maui? Where does this come from?”
“Well,” Charles noted, “you have probably, in another life, been here once before.” A pleasant thought I have never forgotten.
On this Saturday, the majesty and spirituality of Hawaiians — and the feeling of those of us who admire Hawaiian culture but come from other places — was eloquently evident as we all sat or stood in silence, except for frequent chants in a broiling sun for 150 minutes as the tributes came forth.
Kupuna, Charles’ sisters, friends and workers all stepped to the Old Lahaina Luau stage in groups and individually to chant or come forward in silence to offer up ho‘okupu.
Some 129 people by actual count, including Hawaiian brothers with shaved heads and bodies (a show of respect), some dressed in black with red others in white or green, brought up ceremonial gifts in the form of chants or intricately woven forms of lei as a tribute and sign of respect.
Saturday evening, the people who knew him best and some who simply admired him came to celebrate a life that was full of teaching the culture.
Hokulani Holt of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, an active planner along with Charles of the Celebration of the Arts, said her close friend was always ready to teach the culture, to share. He taught the various hotels in Ka’anapali and Wailea what it really means to be part of this land, the ocean, by the wind, by the rain and all that envelops us, she said.
Maui Visitors Bureau head Keli‘i Brown, who made many Mainland trips with Charles to bring the Hawaiian cultural story to local travel writers, remembered when he heard of his passing that — strangely — he smiled and was actually happy.
In a previous near-death experience, according to Brown, Charles had already been to the other side. He was ready, and he said he was ready.
Afflicted with asthma that sometimes took his breath away, Charles was no stranger to calling 911. He did so unsuccessfully for the last time on July 12, 2011.
In a laugh-filled eulogy, a repeat of one she gave at services in Oahu, his sister, Ke‘ala, recalled Charles the boy who always had to be cleaned up for, with the family not knowing what he would become in the future. Those who knew him, Ke‘ala said, would know cleaning up for him was a horrendous task.
As an adult, Charles loved to cook, but he used every pot in the kitchen, she reported. Though quick-witted with a strong sense of humor to the point where tears would run down his face, Charles was better known for his serious side. He wanted to teach where Hawaiians came from and would say the breath of the culture was in its language.
Charles loved hula, kahiko, the ancient kind, but Holt pointed out that he had a grand time doing auana (modern) as well.
Charles last words on his Facebook page were, “I am.”
Today he rests at peace in Kaopala Bay.
Taken from the books Voices of Aloha: Natives and Newcomers and Tales of Maui for Millions available on line at the J of K Bookstore.