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Maui's annual Celebration of the Arts honors multiple facets of Hawaiian culture this weekend

Celebration of the Arts sunrise hi‘uwai at D.T. Fleming Beach Park. Photo: Ritz-Carlton Kapalua

Every Celebration of the Arts weekend begins the same way and, for an annual celebration of Hawaiian culture past, present and future, the pono (correct) way.

In the darkness before sunrise, a couple of hundred people gather on the sand at D.T. Fleming Beach Park near the northernmost tip of Maui. They include Hawaiian kumu (teachers), Maui and Neighbor Island residents, vacationers and guests of the neighboring Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Resort, which has hosted Celebration of the Arts for more than two decades.

Together, they step into the waters of Honokahua Bay—many fully submerging in the gentle surf, others just dipping their feet. Celebration of the Arts chairperson Clifford Nae‘ole and, more recently, his younger brother, Iokepa, have led this hi‘uwai, or spiritual cleansing ceremony, for much of the event’s history.

“The hi‘uwai is a great opening for Celebration of the Arts because it gives everyone who attends the opportunity to free themselves of all the burdens upon their shoulders before coming to the event,” says the elder Nae‘ole, also the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua’s longtime cultural advisor. “I call it the Hawaiian confessional box. You enter the ocean and think about things you’ve done and come to terms with yourself.”

After exiting the water and “leaving all your burdens for the ocean to wash away,” says Nae‘ole, “we do a chant to the sun. As the sun rises, you feel this power. You’ve just freed yourself of all this pilikia (trouble) and enter Celebration of the Arts with an open mind, ready to contribute and, if not contribute, ready to listen.”

Celebration of the Arts opening 'awa ceremony on the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua resort grounds. Photo: Ritz-Carlton Kapalua

Celebration of the Arts—which celebrates its 22nd annual edition this weekend—is all about giving everyone from all walks of life an opportunity to learn about, participate in and contribute to the Hawaiian experience. It is a weekend of immersive workshops on hula, music and food, and hands-on chances to create Hawaiian musical instruments, lei and woodcrafts, led by expert kumu and artisans. It is two days of discussions, films and presentations on pressing concerns to the Hawaiian community. Finally, Celebration of the Arts is remarkably inclusive, completely open to anyone wishing to attend (whether you are a guest of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua or not) and free of charge. (Free, that is, save for its massive, one-of-a-kind event-ending lū‘au. More on that feast later.)

In addition to this year’s sunrise hi‘uwai (set for 5:45 a.m., this Saturday, May 9), opening chants and protocol (at 10 a.m. in the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua lobby) will open two days of events that will include everything from opportunities to craft jewelry with rare Niihau shell and Hawaiian kumu-led discussions of culture, to Hawaiian tea tasting and hula adornment classes. There's much more, including screenings of several new culture-focused Hawaii-produced films.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Reopens Today
We visit the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui
Celebration of the Arts Festival slated for this weekend on Maui's northwest shoreline

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