Cultural commitment at Kaanapali Beach Hotel

The Kaanapali Beach Hotel recently established Hale Hookipa, a formal cultural center in the lobby and has expanded its cultural activities, including workshops on the bamboo nose flute.
The Kaanapali Beach Hotel recently established Hale Hookipa, a formal cultural center in the lobby and has expanded its cultural activities, including workshops on the bamboo nose flute.

For the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, whose tagline is "Hawaii's most Hawaiian hotel," cultural programming and authenticity has always been at the heart of what they do.

Visitor interest too has grown in the Hawaiian traditions, customs and language, and Kaanapali Beach Hotel realized it was time to give their cultural team a home. The property recently restructured their staff and created a formal space in the lobby for the Hale Hookipa (cultural center). Whereas previously they had just a desk, now the team has taken over a small former retail space in the lobby.

The new space includes display areas for Hawaiian arts and crafts and more room to welcome curious guests and share their knowledge. The hotel, which was built in 1964 as one of the first developments in the resort area, also is now offering a handful of cultural activities, including workshops on bamboo nose flute and throw net.

"We made some revisions in the lobby  there was some guest confusion over the difference between the cultural center desk and the Ohana Fun Center activities desk," said Dee Coyle, Kaanapali Beach Hotel director of training for the Hookipa and Pookela, the hotel program dedicated to sharing traditional Hawaiian geography, religion, mythology, economics, technology and diet.

"It gave me a chance to rethink what we were doing and how we could expand the Hawaiian cultural program. I thought if we could separate and create the center there would be a space for the culture side and programming to flourish."

Management was onboard, and the new space offered the chance to meet increased interest from guests and showcase some of the behind the scenes work of the staff.

"I've absolutely seen more interest in cultural programs than before," Coyle said. We have that tagline of the most Hawaiian hotel and people have that expectation of us. We want to keep that experience fresh. We want to make sure the program continues to grow, and guests who return have that same level of experience."

Makahiki season is a four-month period in traditional Hawaiian society honoring the god Lono and harvest that was typically marked by a halt to any wars, sports, offerings to chiefs and general celebration of the bounty of the land and sea. During the season, which runs roughly from November through February, the hotel employees make traditional Hawaiian tools and crafts. They used to be stored away from public view in a room in the hotel, but the opening of the cultural center has allowed them to bring some of the choice pieces of employee work out of storage and onto display.

"We're giving guests a chance to learn Hawaiian activities and allowing employees to come and expand their knowledge in making Hawaiian artifacts as well," Coyle said.

The new programs include a lesson on kaula (cordage), a Hawaiian rope used for multiple of purposes.

"The Hawaiians didn't have any iron, so no nails," Coyle said. "They used kaula to lash things. In the class we teach you ways to make it and how it was used."

There are also bamboo nose flute and bamboo trumpet classes where participants learn how to make and play a few notes on the instruments, and a workshop on bamboo printing, called ohe kapala.

"We make all of our dyes out of plants and then use those dies to make imprints on kapa, the bark cloth," Coyle said.

There is also a throw net class, which covers the skills needed to be a successful throw net fisherman before a demonstration on land with practice nets for both adults and children.

Coyle wants the cultural center to be a hub for a variety of programs and activities supporting the conservation of traditional Hawaiian life. They also recently started a program in which every department will help plant a specific native plant both in a garden on property and in the mountains of Maui.

"It was a necessary move to make," Coyle said. "For us to now have a dedicated space is really a statement from management that they are willing to invest in and represent the culture in a proper way. By making this move they've allowed so many other things to happen on property."
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