Did you guys catch that fascinating Associated Press story in the Sept. 8 Maui News on tiki culture? The story, headlined “Nix the tiki bar: Tourism moves toward authenticity,” discusses a move among major resorts in Hawaii to replace the coconut bras, fire knife dances and other kitschy “Hawaiiana” with actual, real culture and traditions from the Kanaka Maoli.
“Tourism leaders know Hawaii needs to highlight what makes the islands unique to compete with other sun-and-surf destinations like Florida, Mexico and Thailand,” reported the AP. “But the turn is also the latest sign of a Native Hawaiian renaissance with more locals studying Hawaiian language, reviving traditional styles of hula and learning ancient skills like using stars to navigate the ocean.”
The story focuses mainly on Oahu resorts–Disney’s Aulani Resort and the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki–but also mentions the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel (KBH), which is often credited with the distinction of being the “most Hawaiian” hotel on Maui.
“For Lori Sablas, the cultural director at the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel on Maui, it is about accuracy,” reported the AP. The story then quoted Lori Sablas, the KBH’s cultural director, as saying the following: “My mandate is, ‘How do Hawaiians think? How do Hawaiians act?’ Let’s not change it. Let’s not make it up.”
While certainly a laudable goal, the story misses a few points that greatly complicate the notion that the KBH is among the most “authentic” resorts in Hawaii. The first is that the KBH–which does indeed prominently display Hawaiian artifacts and grow taro on the resort grounds–also has its own tiki bar (the whole “tiki” movement began in California in the 1930s, the story notes).
Called “The Tiki Bar & Grill,” it’s a kick-ass little spot on the resort. It’s always lively, fun and is every bit as kitschy and fun as any tikified establishment you might find on the Mainland.
“Everyone envisions themselves at a Tiki-themed bar with an exotic cocktail while in Hawaii,” states the KBH’s official website. “The Tiki Bar at Kaanapali Beach Hotel is the first and only outdoor Tiki Bar on Maui.”
Here’s another issue, and this is by no means limited to the KBH. Every go to a hula or dinner show or some other such big gathering of people in Hawaii? What’s the first thing the host or emcee says? “Alooooha.” Not “Aloha,” but “Alooooha,” with a big emphasis on the “ooooo” part.
In his 2011 book Aloha: Traditions of Love and Affection, University of Hawaii cultural specialist Malcolm Naea Chun wrote that the word “Aloha” is, historically, far more intimate and personal than the word currently used on resorts and even in supposedly culturally accurate events.
“[A]loha is special because it upholds, reaffirms, and binds relationships,” Chun wrote. “Aloha should not be taken lightly. It should not be used casually or frivolously.”
No less an authority than Queen Lili‘uokalani helped guide Chun to that conclusion.
“Never… never say alo-o-oha,” the queen told a crowd in 1910, according to Chun’s book. “It is a haole word. Aloha is ours, as is its meaning.”
While we’re on the subject, here are two other haole words: “private property.” According to HawaiiHistory.org, “The concept of private property was unknown to ancient Hawaiians.” That kinda throws a whole lot of really cold water on this whole search for the most “authentic” representation of Hawaiian culture in our tourism industry. But really, when have we Americans ever let a bunch of historians dictate terms in our marketing efforts?
Photo: Don Williams/Wikimedia Commons