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Cultural adviser aims to help everyone live aloha

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 1:56 a.m. HST, Mar 25, 2012

Clifford Naeole's life-changing story begins in the kalo loi (taro patches) of his paternal grandfather, whom he lovingly nicknamed "Granddaddy Mauka." Growing up, Naeole spent many days in those loi on the slopes of rural Waihee in northwestern Maui.

Naeole was the hiapo, the firstborn of the firstborn of the firstborn of the firstborn in his family. "Because of that, in Granddaddy Mauka's mind, I alone was responsible for the future of our family," he said. "Without a doubt, he would teach me to work the land. Without hesitation, I would accept my role."

Time passed. Naeole learned how to grow kalo as his ancestors had, but unlike them, he felt no connection to it. Instead of doing the muddy, backbreaking work, he wanted to experience the world outside of Maui.

Soon after Naeole graduated from high school, he received a call from Granddaddy Mauka. "Kou manawa … your turn," his grandfather said. "Hiapo, if I hold my hands palms up to accept money, it would fall between the cracks of my fingers. But if I hold my hands palms down, I can dig holes to plant seeds and harvest the food that grows from them.

"The only time I would turn my palms up would be to place food into the mouths of my family. The loi can put food into my mouth, your mouth, your children's mouths and the mouths of our descendants who have yet to be born."

His message made sense, but Naeole was not willing to commit to a life in the loi. And so he told his grandfather he would not stay to tend the taro. "That day I not only broke a tradition," Naeole said, "I broke my granddaddy's heart."

Naeole lived in California for 12 years. It was a good life but Maui kept calling to him. Finally, he realized it was time to return home.


>> Place: Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, 1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua Resort, Maui
>> Dates: April 6-8
>> Admission: Most offerings are free.
>> Phone: 669-6200
>> Website:
>> Notes: Valid April 4-9, the kamaaina package includes accommodations, daily breakfast for two, parking and resort fees. Cost is $245 per night, double occupancy. Call to book.

But things had changed there. When Naeole visited his grandparents, he was horrified to see that the loi were gone. "Granddaddy, where is the kalo?" he asked. "You said you would NEVER sell your land!"

The old man sighed deeply before he answered. Poking his index finger into Naeole's chest, he said, "The land is gone because you, hiapo, failed to carry on the destiny of our family."

"I had never felt, nor will I ever again feel, the deep sorrow and regret that I did at that moment," Naeole said. "I went into kalo patches again, but with an entirely different outlook than I had when I was a youth. To me the loi represented aloha — love of the aina (land), love of ohana (family), love of my ancestors, love of my heritage. From that moment on, I knew my work lay in preserving and sharing that."

Thus came the inspiration for the theme of this year's 20th annual Celebration of the Arts: "Me ke aloha … with aloha to all." Held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, the event features music, mele (songs), hula, films, panel discussions, and hands-on art activities and demonstrations that celebrate Hawaiian history and culture. Naeole, the hotel's cultural adviser, has planned and implemented the festival from its inception.

"Aloha means unconditional love, concern and acceptance," he said. "The idea behind this year's theme is to heighten people's awareness of when aloha is being given to them and to encourage them to pay it forward. Exhibiting aloha to everyone, even those who have differing opinions, will create more allies who can help the Hawaiians move into the future with pride, hope and dignity."

The panel discussion "Aloha Lives in Distant Lands" will bring together Failautusi Avegalio, a Samoan chief and University of Hawaii business professor; Anne Gachuhi, a native of Kenya who's now living on Maui; the Venerable Lama Gyal­tsen, spiritual director and resident teacher of the Maui Dharma Center; flo wiger (she spells her name with lowercase letters), retired director of teaching and learning services for the University of Hawaii Community Colleges and a member of the Standing Rock (Lakota Sioux) Nation; and Kainoa Horcajo, cultural consultant for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.

"The concept of aloha is practiced by people around the globe," Naeole said. "It has different names but the same purpose. This distinguished panel will discuss how aloha was and is extended in their cultures, and draw parallels with Hawaii. They will show we are one people in one canoe."

Hawaiian historian and artist Brook Parker is a direct descendant of John Palmer Parker, founder of famed Parker Ranch on Hawaii island, and Keliikipikaneokaolohaka, a great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. He is known for his powerful portraits of alii (royalty) and warriors of old Hawaii.

"Brook's presentation, ‘What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?' will look at Hawaiian leaders, the kuleana (responsibilities) they accepted and the legacy they left," Naeole said. "Today our kuleana is to provide aloha to all. What kind of ancestors will we be?"

Numerous other activities and presentations will reveal the many ways aloha is expressed. In Naeole's opinion, "The key is to educate, not intimidate. Understand, not reprimand. Listen, not shout. Give, not take. The more we live aloha, the more we will reap aloha."



April 6
11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Demonstrations and exhibits of contemporary and traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts. Also Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
The Rainbow Within You: Henry Kapono, renowned entertainer and co-founder of Celebration of the Arts, encourages children to bring out the “rainbow” within them and contribute to a mural reflecting “A Beautiful Hawaiian Day.”

1-3:30 p.m.
The History and Responsibilities of the Royal Hawaiian Guard: Learn about this organization, whose members serve as sentries at the Wainee Royal Mausoleum in Lahaina. Also on Saturday at the same time.

12-2:45 p.m.
Maui Composers and Their Musical Legacy: “Aunty’’ Noelani Mahoe shares insights about music written by past and present-day Maui composers.

3-4:15 p.m.
Na Mele Hoike o Maui: Choirs from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, take the stage for this song exhibition featuring Maui mele and composers.

9 p.m.-midnight
Celebration After Hours: Maui son and extraordinary Hawaiian falsetto singer Kamakakehau Fernandez celebrates the release of his CD “Wahi Mahalo.”

April 7
10-11 a.m.

Aloha Lives in Distant Lands: Panel members representing Tibet, Africa, Samoa, Hawaii and Native Americans relate how aloha is practiced in their cultures.

11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
The Evolution of the Canoe: Hawaiian watermen Kimokeo Kapahulehua and Iokepa Naeole explain how the essence of the waa (canoe) goes beyond the ocean.

1:45-2:30 p.m.
What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?: Hawaiian historian and artist Brook Kapukuniahi Parker explains his love for the alii and how their acceptance of kuleana has shaped his family today.

2:45-3:45 p.m.
Moving with the Speed of Nature: This think tank considers climatic changes, causes, impacts and adaptations. What messages from Mother Earth should we be hearing?

6-8:30 p.m.
The Celebration Luau and Show: A bountiful Hawaiian feast and entertainment by Uluwehi Guerrero and Halau Kauluokala, Na Mele Hoike o Maui and Ulalena.

9 p.m.-midnight
Celebration After Hours: Waipuna travels from Oahu to hold the release party for their CD “E Hoi Mai.”

April 8
10:15 a.m.

Easter egg hunt

11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Easter brunch


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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