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Some say summit fails to project the spirit of Hawaii to global audience

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 02:12 p.m. HST, Nov 14, 2011

At APEC meetings all week, Hawaii has been on display.

Delegates have been exposed to Hawaiian food, dance, music and cultural demonstrations. APEC attendees have toured cultural destinations. World leaders have been hosted at private homes, where they were introduced to Hawaiian traditions. And Hawaiian singers and hula halau have performed at big and small gatherings alike, including a dinner with world leaders Saturday at the Hale Koa Hotel.

But some worry that not enough of Hawaiian culture got through to the world in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, and are disappointed at the absence of Hawaiian customs and sense of place at key events.

President Barack Obama, for example, did not get a lei when he landed Friday. And there were no aloha shirts to be found in the group photo of APEC world leaders Sunday. Instead, leaders wore business attire.

At a news conference Sunday at Ko Olina Resort, with palm trees and a blue sea in the background, the president was asked whether leaders passed up on aloha attire for the group photo because Obama didn't want to project the appearance of having a frivolous gathering in a top vacation spot during tough economic times.

"With respect to this trip, look, this is a pretty nice piece of scenery, and I take enormous pride of having been raised in the state of Hawaii," Obama said. "But we're here for business, we're here to create jobs and we've got a set of tangible concrete steps that we've taken that are going to make our economy stronger."

Maile Meyer, owner of Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii, who helped to organize an APEC reception, said she noticed that the energy at the APEC meetings was one of "globalization."

"We could be in Singapore" or anywhere, she said. "It's unfortunate because it removes what is unique about whatever place you are in."

Hawaiian musician and language instructor Keli‘i Tau‘a agreed, saying it appeared that Hawaii wasn't seen as a host, "but only a place that they go to for their meetings."

But others counter that the forum was saturated with the aloha spirit and Hawaiian traditions, and also say that it was important for Hawaii to be seen as more than just a destination for play and relaxation.

APEC Hawaii Host Committee members could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

But John De Fries, president of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, which worked closely with the committee on a myriad of Hawaiian cultural aspects, said Hawaiian traditions and customs were apparent at APEC gatherings.

"I think it was a very evident that it was Hawaii APEC," De Fries said. "The real proof of this is whatever international media we can capture. We're going to need some time to gather all of that and begin to assess the extent that impact was made. But my gut feeling is, yes, this APEC was hosted by the United States, but delegations understood this was occurring in Hawaii and that Hawaii … (is) very unique."

De Fries also said that the work of the APEC Hawaii committee and business leaders over the coming months will be to figure out "what fruits did this really bear that can serve us going forward as a community, as a visitor industry, as a place to do business."

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Peter Apo said security and APEC or State Department protocol wouldn't allow some Hawaiian customs.

"The lei (for Obama) was one of them," he said. "That was a no-no."

As for images of Hawaii and Hawaiian customs getting out to the world, Apo said it all depends on the "media reach and the interest level in the countries of origin."

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wiliki wrote:
The SA doesn't get it. This is politics. Our aloha spirit was reflected in the peaceful conference with no arrests and riots as in Canada, and the friendly faces of our working people in Waikiki and elsewhere. I'm sure that the delegates could sense that the general feeling was like that even though there was an attack on a Federal agent in a McDonald's on Kuhio.
on November 14,2011 | 04:17AM
BarkingEagle wrote:
It's difficult to express Hawaiian culture and the Aloha Spirit when our island has been turned into a police state for a week. Good riddance to APEC and the platform it provides for corporations to undermine environmental, labor and financial regulations to extract more wealth to the detriment of consumers, workers and the rest of the 99%.
on November 14,2011 | 05:45AM
1local wrote:
APEC meetings should be done online. Obama missed the opportunity of utilizing the Aloha shirt for Business purposes. This would have promoted business for local business owners. The Aloha shirt is acceptable business attire and could have been utilized to market Hawaii - just as Kona coffee is Hawaii's own...
on November 14,2011 | 06:06AM
HoldEverything wrote:
It's silly to debate that APEC didn't reflect the aloha spirit, or that Hawaii wasn't represented enough, or that Obama didn't wear a lei and that APEC leaders didn't wear their aloha shirts. These folks came here for a meeting, not to pose for promotional images to market Hawaii to the world. The promotional aspect was something cooked up by the host committee to rationalize the expense of holding APEC in the first place. It always was and always remained an illusion. The only stories that reflect the reality of APEC in Hawaii were about road closures, over the top security, and traffic. Thankfully, those folks will all soon be on their way home and we can go back to our normal lives.
on November 14,2011 | 07:34AM
M75 wrote:
Thank god this summit over aloha!
on November 14,2011 | 08:47AM
from_da_cheapseats wrote:
I think Maile set her sights to high for what this was, a business convention. No one takes time out to smell the roses when they are on the job, and with so many governmental officials in one place, they are going to work, not play. This is a nice human interest story, but the premise is a off. From what I heard, the delegates loved this place, saw the kindness of the local people, and..then...went to work.
on November 14,2011 | 11:41AM
waikiicapt wrote:
It was stated that leis weren't given to "other" leaders by decree of their protocol officers. Okay, so be it. But why did Obama refuse a lei in his so-called "native home"???? Because he's a buffoon, that's why. No class, no brains, no understanding of Aloha spirit, no sense of any correct protocol for his own presence in Hawaii. Times up, he needs the boot out!
on November 14,2011 | 12:56PM
tiki886 wrote:
Why does everyone want to make this about Hawaii? It was never about Hawaii. APEC is about business and economics around the Pacific Rim. APEC was not here to party or sightsee or make friends wit da locals.
on November 14,2011 | 04:13PM
51butterflies wrote:
Maybe I missed it, but did Obama or our Hawaii Governor and Honolulu Mayor , and HPD chief Kealoha thank the people of Oahu for enduring all the inconveniences, loss of business revenue for many local businesses, inability to use public parks and beaches, etc.??? I hope they make these MAHALOS a BIG PRIORITY in the NEWS MEDIA, even more so than all the tv spots from them prior to week of APEC.
on November 15,2011 | 12:13AM
onelaulau wrote:
I heard Obama thank Hawaii residents for the inconvenience at the press conference he held at Ko Olina which was carried by all the news channels.
on November 15,2011 | 12:22AM
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