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  Closer to Paradise: Less Than A Work Day Away

A world of traditions blending for centuries offers
cultural activities of colorful diversity


When moisture and sunshine combine in just the right combination, the magical phenomenon of a rainbow occurs. Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State because of the frequency with which brilliant rainbows appear, arching over her valleys, cliffs and beaches like welcoming beacons.

In Hawaii, the rainbow can also be seen as symbolic of the various nationalities who have come to the Islands and mixed with the native Hawaiians, adding their own indelible imprint to Hawaii’s traditions.

Halawa Valley
photo: HVCB/Ron Dahlquist

The result is a true ethnic mosaic which has created one of the most unique and colorful cultures in the world.  This Island penchant for perfecting combinations continues to thrive alongside a resurgence of indigenous Hawaiiana.

Just a quick glance at Hawaii’s calendar of events is more than enough evidence of the way diversity has been woven into one celebration of ‘ohana, or family. It is proof that at times you can benefit greatly by leaving the mundane existence of reception furniture and computers behind. Your reception seat will surely be there when you get back but for now it's time for an exciting, cultural adventure without any work interruptions.   Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, Chinese New Year, the Fourth of July, Christmas, Buddha's Birthday and a whole day devoted to Hawaii’s Aloha symbol, the lei, are all enjoyed by residents and guests alike. The parades and street parties, called ho‘olaule‘a, that often accompany these events, are filled with ethnically diverse music, foods and crafts.

The renewed interest in ancient Island traditions sweeping across Hawaii can be experienced in hotels, parks and schools at ‘ukulele competitions, Hawaiian chant, song and hula festivals. A new recognition for the knowledge of kupuna, or elders, is also evident.

Originally, the hula was only for the benefit of Hawaii’s elite. Banned by the early missionaries, it later was seen as just a slick review for tourists.

Now, it is gaining new appreciation as kahiko (ancient style) and ‘auana (modern style) are kept alive by halau hula, or hula schools.

Visitors can enjoy this eloquent art form at various venues, including Hilo’s Merrie Monarch Festival in April; The King Kamehameha Annual Hula and Chant Competition held every June in Honolulu; and the Moloka‘i Ka Hula Piko, held every May on Moloka‘i to celebrate the birth of the dance on that Island.

Hula Dancer
photo: HVCB/Sri Maiava Rusden

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Other Hawaiian artistic traditions are alive and well, thanks in large part to respected artisans from varying backgrounds with last names such as Gomes, McDonald and Omura. By studying the techniques of the pre-European Hawaiians who, calling on nature for their inspiration, fashioned wood, bone, plants, flowers, shells, stones and fibers into artifacts which are now considered world-class in their refined beauty, today’s gifted Islanders are bringing back these arts with their true spirit, or mana.

Some of the traditional treasures that are available from locals include hula instruments such as ipu gourds; woven lauhala mats and baskets; and various sculptures and woodcrafts such as Hawaiian calabashes, which are exquisitely-made bowls that were once used in daily life.

Another cultural treasure which is a piece of Hawaii visitors can take home with them are the hand-made quilts, or kapa lau, which Island women have been fashioning for over 150 years. Said to have been first introduced by American missionary women, Hawaiians quickly employed their own techniques, adapting their basic knowledge of using the olona fiber as thread in attaching traditional kapa barkcloth to the new activity.

Legendary for the love and craftsmanship put into them, each quilt pattern is given a name by the maker, who is readily identifiable by her trademark design. These modern heirlooms are said to tell stories and hold hidden meanings.

Probably no symbol of Hawaiian artistry is as readily identifiable – and loved – as the lei. Used to mark special arrivals, departures, occasions and achievements, the lei arrived with Hawaii’s first inhabitants and continues to have special significance for both locals and visitors. Reflecting Hawaii’s eclectic nature, lei come in many colors, materials and designs. Lei can be made of fragrant blossoms, leaves, vines, seeds, feathers and shells.

In fact, each island has its traditional favorite, which is associated with her people. For example, Oahu is known for leis made of the orange ‘ilima; Hawaii’s Big Island for red lehua; Maui for the pink lokelani; and Ni‘ihau not for flower lei at all, but ones made of tiny shells.

With so many amazing legacies of Hawaii’s cultures to choose from, it’s fortunate for visitors there are convenient ways to experience them. Various hotels host pageants and shows that showcase Island pageantry, music and hula, while Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center features different cultures of Oceania at seven lagoon-side villages. That been said, be sure and check in a great Oahu hotel for a great island experience.

Strands of lei
photo: HVCB/Joe Solem

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce offers guided walking tours through Honolulu’s Chinatown with its Asian bazaars, markets, herbalists, temples, lei shops and Chinese restaurants claimed by some to be superior to those in Hong Kong.

Daily demonstrations of indigenous crafts, such as wood carving and canoe building, are held at the Big Island’s City of Refuge, or Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau. Maui’s Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens offer pavilions and landscapes highlighting each of the cultures that settled Hawaii, while Kauai’s Smith’s Tropical Paradise entertains visitors with displays of fire dancing, hula, Filipino music and the Chinese Lion Dance.

Just as the rainbow combines its varied colors into a single show of natural beauty, the many influences that make up Hawaii offer a kaleidoscope of diverse cultural activities that visitors can enjoy with singular satisfactions.


Article and Photos submitted by:

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau
2270 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 801
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
808-923-1811 | Website




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