The waters off Waihee were murky that memorable day five years ago, but Clifford Naeole decided to go spearfishing alone anyway. He was familiar with that area of North Maui; it was where his grandfather used to dive almost every day to catch fish for his family.
About 10 yards from shore, Naeole saw a shark in front of him. "At first I was afraid," he recalled, "then I felt he was leading me out. When the visibility got better, I saw the shark had vanished."
Naeole was enjoying his outing — until he discovered his leg had become tangled in his "stringer," the long cord holding his catch. The stringer was wrapped around a coral head, anchoring him to the bottom. Equipped with just a snorkel, mask and fins, Naeole was terrified, thinking he did not have enough air to survive underwater for long.
"All of a sudden," he said, "I heard a voice say, ‘Don’t panic. Do what you need to do calmly, and you will be fine.’ That helped me regain my composure, and I was able to free myself. As I swam to the surface, I thanked the shark, my aumakua, who helped me to live another day."
Aumakua are personal guardians that manifest themselves to each family in a different form, including shark, owl, dog and turtle. They are honored healers, advisers and protectors that might appear in a person’s dream, vision or "inner voice."
"E Na Aumakua" is the theme of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s 19th annual Celebration of the Arts. "The translation of that phrase is ‘A call to my guardian angels,’" said Naeole, the hotel’s cultural adviser, who has been chairman of the renowned Hawaiian cultural event since its inception. "You’re asking for their attention and guidance in regards to your endeavors."
As usual, Naeole has planned an exceptional program. The Dr. George Kanahele Mele Hookuku Song Competition pays tribute to the late historian, author and cultural expert, who is remembered as the father of the concept of "a sense of place," which fosters the presence of Hawaiian values in all phases of the hospitality industry.
Participating this year are choirs from Oahu’s Ilima Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and Kaanapali Beach Hotel on Maui. Each group will be singing a mandatory song and a song of their choice. Only the mandatory song, "Malu i ke Ao" ("Peace at Dawn") by the Rev. Sam Kapu, will be judged. Among the criteria are tone, harmony, stage presence and pronunciation of the Hawaiian language.
Another highlight will be "Ka Pohaku, ka Mana, ka Manao," a presentation by Hawaiian practitioner Kai Markell about a rare stone that his father found four years ago in the Volcano area of the Big Island. There’s no evidence the stone was carved by man, but there’s clearly a face on it. Markell believes it is the sacred Pohaku Wanana o Paiea, Prophecy Stone of Kamehameha.
Also of note is "E Na Aumakua," an imaginative show about a little girl who learns about aumakua through adventures inspired by her uncle’s stories. Written and produced by talented performing artist and face/body painter Rachel Deboer, it features dance, puppets, live traditional Hawaiian music and amazing special effects, including the magic of black light. Props float; actors suddenly appear and disappear; costumes, headpieces and face and body paint glow brilliantly.
"I had been thinking about the theme ‘E Na Aumakua’ for six years, but I was not confident enough before to address it," Naeole said.
"I now feel that what we will share will be for the greater good and that the energy in the sessions will be positive. Aumakua are our guides throughout our lives. It’s up to us to be in tune with them and their messages — and, above all, to heed them."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.