The cultural advisor for any hotel or resort in Hawaii has the tremondous responsibily to be the purveyor of Hawaiian culture on the property. They embrace this kuleana (responsibility) by sharing cultural knowledge with their fellow staff as well as the visitors who they are able to talk with. The following cultral advisors are Hawaiians sharing aloha and knowledge with all of the people they engage.
Kahulu De Santos
Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa
Seven years ago, while Kahulu De Santos was working for the State of Hawai‘i, Disney announced its plans to build a resort at Ko Olina that would celebrate Hawai‘i and the Hawaiian culture. In true Disney fashion, the team from Walt Disney Imagineering engaged local cultural experts to develop plans, ideas, and concepts that would become Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa. Their goal was to create a one-of-a-kind Hawaiian vacation for guests from around the world, and around the corner.
While initial plans set the foundation and landscape for Aulani, Disney also knew that the long- term success of the Resort would depend on steady cultural guidance. Through the search of that person to plant, nurture, grow, and care for the culture, Kahulu De Santos accepted the opportunity to serve as cultural advisor for Aulani.
An experienced hula practitioner who grew up in Maunawili, on the island of O‘ahu, Kahulu has decades of experience in cultural education through her family, hālau hula and her kumu, Mapuana de Silva. Kahulu graduated as a kumu and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Hawaiian Studies, with an emphasis on Hawaiian language, from the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa.
Her first task at hand was to help Aulani prepare for its opening in August 2011. One of the largest undertakings at the time was training nearly 1,200 brand new Cast Members (employees) to provide a truly Hawaiian experience. With a focus on accuracy and storytelling, Kahulu quickly took on the role of kumu (teacher) for the entire Aulani Cast. “Ever since my first teacher’s assistant job in hālau almost 35 years ago, I knew I wanted to help others learn and connect with the cultural richness of Hawai‘i” said Kahulu.
Kahulu shared that her role at Aulani is “like fine feather lei that are kept and handed down for generations. It is an expression of love, affection, respect and honor.” Lei making is personal and individualized, and so is the experience that each Cast Member brings to their role every day. “In the art of lei making, the true meaning is in the creation and ultimate sharing of the lei,” she continued. It is with this foundation that Kahulu has brought the Hawaiian culture to each Cast Member, who shares the stories, hospitality and aloha with every family vacation at Aulani.
Kahulu’s role goes beyond Aulani’s efforts with guests. “At Aulani, we not only celebrate the Hawaiian culture but we also want to help ensure the perpetuation of the culture through continued sharing and learning,” Kahulu remarked. To that end, Aulani invited kumu ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language teachers) from both public and private high schools across the state to gather for ‘Aha Kumu Hawaiian Language Symposium, a day-long discussion about Hawaiian language, the status of educational programs and best practices. The day proved both exciting and rewarding to the kumu from three islands and 13 different schools. Reflecting on the day’s events, Kahulu noted, “The hope is that we have started a network and conversation that will further one of the most important aspects of the Hawaiian culture – its language. ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i is at the core of our cultural values and keeping true to who we are and everything that we do.”
Through her efforts at Aulani, Kahulu has worked to create a supportive environment for Hawaiian cultural practitioners, craftsmen, musicians, dancers, artists and Aulani’s own Cast Members who each, in their own way, preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture. These are the makings of Kahulu’s lei. With her own hands, she has woven together something special for visitors, kama‘āina, and our Hawaiian Culture.
Thelma Kehaulani Kam
Sheraton Waikiki; The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort; Moana Surfrider;
A Westin Resort & Spa; Sheraton Princess Kaiulani
As a fixture at Starwood Waikiki’s four hotels for the past 44 years, Kam pulls from those memories of warmly greetings visitors to her island home. And she shares that generous spirit of ho‘okipa (hospitality) – whether it’s through the revered Hui Ho‘ala at sunrise, lei-making lessons, or talking story during a historical tour with guests. “Aloha is focusing on our future through looking at the past that has made us what we are today,” she says.
Take care of the past, honor and learn from the kūpuna, and the past will take care of the future. It is now time to teach, learn and perpetuate this legacy.
Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas
Born and raised on the Island of Oahu, Makalapua exemplifies the true spirit of Aloha through her actions, words, chants and songs.
As Director of Culture at The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, she feels she has been provided with a gateway to educate and share the rich Hawaiian culture and empower the resort’s associates with the knowledge and tools to create memorable experiences for Maui visitors. Her most recent accomplishment was opening Puuhonua Cultural Center, the first Hawaiian cultural center at the Westin KOR Villas. There, she spends countless hours offering story-telling sessions that share the history of Hawaii and Kaanapali. She is an inspirational and strong leader in the community and workplace, reviving the culture in Hawaii so it can live on.
Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
Formerly the executive assistant to the general manager at Sheraton Kona, Lily Dudoit stumbled upon unpreserved historic sites at Kaukulaelae Heiau and ancient fishing village by chance and curiosity. After feeling that there was a spiritual presence on the grounds, Dudoit researched archives within the resort and the state library, in addition to hearing many stories about the historic village from Aunty Lily Kong, one of Keauhou’s kupuna (elder).
Born and raised in Kona and a Kumu Hula graduate of Na Lei ‘O Kaholoku, Dudoit then embarked on a personal and professional journey of discovering Kaukulaelae’s history and rich heritage. Chong granted Dudoit the privilege and kuleana, or responsibility, of sharing Kaukulaelae’s story Sheraton Kona’s guests – and the world.
Now the director of culture and activities at Sheraton Kona, Dudoit and her team provide cultural tours for resort guests and the general public who seek to learn more about Kaukulaelae Heiau, which dates back to the 1700s.
Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Born on the island of Kauai, KarLyn Sukehira Flores was raised by her tutu (grandmother), who instilled Hawaiian cultural values in all of her grandchildren. KarLyn began dancing hula at the age of three, and continues to share her love of the art with her loved ones and malihini (visitors) alike and perpetuating aloha; loving and respecting others as they are your own ‘ohana (family) as her tutu had taught her.
As the Manager of Culture and Guest Experience at The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, KarLyn’s vision is to share the depth of Hawaiian culture and have visitors and Westin associates embrace cultural traditions in addition to the beauty of the special place she calls home. Whether educating The Westin Princeville team members about the significance of pa’akai traditions on the island or developing the new Lei Aloha ceremony for resort guests, Karlyn shares her ‘ike (knowledge) as part of her kuleana to fulfill the legacy of her kupuna.
Maile Keawe Bryan
Maile Keawe Bryan calls her office the Activity Hale at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. It is here that she teaches the guests of the resort Hawaiian culture through a variety of crafts and activities including lei making, hula, ukulele, kapa printing and more. Her gracious style leaves a lasting impression on her students from the very young, to the young at heart. Each student takes with them the warm aloha spirit she shares as well as a greater understanding to the traditions and history of the Valley Isle and Hawaii.
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa’s guests have daily Hawaiian cultural activities available for them to participate in as well as the nightly Cliff Diving Ceremony. The nightly cliff diving ceremony has been a hotel tradition since the resort first opened in 1963. The Maui Nui Luau takes place Monday, Wednesday and seasonally on Friday and tells the stories of Maui, both the demi-god and the island.
Puna Kalama Dawson
St. Regis Princeville
Puna Kalama Dawson is the Hawaiian Cultural Guide to Wellness for the St. Regis Princeville Resort’s Halele’a Spa. As a highly regarded keeper of ancient Hawaiian wisdom, celebrated locally and internationally for her revered cultural presence and essence of aloha, Ms. Kalama Dawson provides invaluable insight on Hawaiian values and philosophy as part of “Nānā Iā Loko,” (To Look Within), meditation and wellness retreats . In her role, Ms. Kalama Dawson will participate in an integrative wellness approach with the Halele’a Spa to cultivate self-awareness and renewal for guests. As one of 11 children growing up on the island of Oahu, the importance of the Hawaiian culture, preserving the natural environment and giving back to the community was instilled in Puna from a young age. Puna has become a renowned figure in her community and beyond, a continuous supporter of local events and cultural organizations and has also served as a dignified representative of the Hawaiian culture abroad. She is Kumu Hula of Kaipuha’a o Kekauilani Na Pua Hala o Kau’ai, and has been instrumental in spearheading a number of community groups and organizations, including the Kanuikapono Charter School, of which she is a Founder.
Westin Maui Resort & Spa
As GPS Manager (Global Personalization at Starwood) at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa and resort representative of Starwood Hawaii’s Aloha Council, Sulinn Aipa plays an integral role in creating significant experiences guided by the culture of the Hawaiian islands. Hailing from Maui, her early introduction to hula by famed kumu hula Emma Farden Sharpe (Aunty Emma) has crafted and molded her passion for the host culture. She firmly believes in imparting a sense of place amongst resort associates and guests, island visitors as well as within the local community. Whether it is teaching a special Hawaiian song at the resort, introducing cultural activities for guests such as a coconut husking demonstration or being actively involved and encouraging others to give back through voluntourism initiatives such as Malama Honokowai, she is often sharing her love for Hawaii and genuine spirit of Aloha in so many ways.
Alaka‘i of Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel Ho‘okipa Department
In 1986, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and Hawaiian scholar, Dr. George Kanahele, embarked on an exciting journey of discovery – Project Pookela. The journey began with a class on Hawaiian values that inspired employees to create their own mission statement that reads, in part, “We, at Kaanapali Beach Hotel recognize the need to enhance our sense of place for the mana of the land, its Hawaiian past, present, and future, because this is the essence of being the most Hawaiian hotel.” The hotel built upon this in 1988 by hiring, not just one, but an entire staff of full-time cultural advisors who dedicate their attention to providing a cultural exchange for guests to learn and enjoy beyond the normal guest activities. Under the leadership of Dee Coyle, Alakai (cultural advisors) lead all of the 25 guest activities throughout the week; provide daily musical entertainment for guests to enjoy; produce special events programs; and teach Pookela classes, ukulele classes, singing rehearsals and hula classes for all employees. Their responsibility to teach and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture with visitors from all over the world also extends to educating and teaching over 200 hotel employees at Kaanapali Beach Hotel on how to be the best at being the most Hawaiian hotel!
RoseMary Malihini Keahi-Heath, is the senior member of the team. She tends to adopt everyone into her family and in turn, they adopt her into their families. Malihini is talented in all areas of Hawaiiana, but her love is Hawaiian medicine. When she leads the Garden Tour, it turns into a Hawaiian medicinal tour.
Other members of the team include Samuel Kalani Ako, Uncle Sam, legendary musician in Hawaii since the time he was a young boy. He can play any instrument, composes and arranges songs for Kaanapali Beach Hotel, and is sought after by many hālau and established entertainers to accompany their performances.
Rance Marker Villarimo is a transplant from corporate hotels where he acquired the skills of managing high-end guest services. But deep down, he’s a kanaka maoli, a grassroots Hawaiian with a love of hula and music. Rance performs proper protocol rituals and chants the oli as ceremonies begin. He is also a kumu hula of Napili Kai Foundation and an ordained wedding minister.
Georgena Ku’uiponahokuokalani Chung-Sasada is the newest Alaka‘i. She is a very talented hula dancer and singer, and initiated employee hula classes for all employees.
Michiyo Amundson has been at Kaanapali Beach Hotel for 12 years. Although she is a Japan national, she has comfortably adapted to the Hawaiian culture. She is a liaison with Japanese guests, and can correctly interpret Hawaiian programs in the appropriate Japanese way.
Guests, along with hotel staff at Kaanapali Beach Hotel, entrust the entire Hookipa department to immerse them in authentic Hawaiian culture, and to be truly pono in what they say and do. At Hawaii’s Most Hawaiian Hotel, Alakai strive for Pookela excellence in all they do.