Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Travelers searching for an authentic Hawaiian cultural experience, one showcasing traditional dance, food and art, should mark the second weekend of May on their calendars.

The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, located on Maui’s west coast, will hold its 23rd annual Celebration of the Arts Festival May 8 through 10, featuring some of Hawaii’s most respected cultural practitioners, artisans, educators and entertainers. And the event offers visitors a chance to participate in a range of traditional hands-on art activities and panel discussions along with the opportunity to enjoy Hawaiian music, dance and a top-notch luau experience.

“On that day, our luau is without a doubt the best luau in the state of Hawaii; I guarantee that,” said Clifford Naeole, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua’s cultural adviser, adding that the May 9 event features Hawaiian food you won’t typically find at other luaus.

“Some of them are traditional foods you rarely find at a regular Hawaiian party anymore,” he told Travel Weekly. “There’ll be opihi [shellfish] from the Big Island and opai, or shrimp, from the streams of Keanae [on Maui] along with poi from Keanae, and it’s Hawaiian hands cooking the traditional foods in traditional ways.”

Naeole worked to launch the Celebration of the Arts Festival at the Ritz-Carlton more than two decades ago as a way to help heal a rift between the hotel and the Hawaiian community that developed during a tense negotiation period in the 1980s between activists and developers, who originally planned to build the resort on top of an ancient burial ground.

“Hawaiians stood up and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Naeole explained. “And so they stopped the digging and started negotiating, and the hotel was moved back up the bluff. And the burial site is now kept as a preservation site in perpetuity.”

During the Celebration of the Arts Festival, visitors can sit down across the 54-acre resort with Hawaiian artisans and learn to make things like wood and stone carvings, hand weavings or even traditional jewelry. Travelers will also have a chance to take in a number of panel discussions relating to topics like the future of the Hawaiian people, the Polynesian community at large, and even the food the first human visitors to the Hawaiian Islands carried with them in their doubled-hulled ocean sailing canoes.

“Basically, the bottom line is: reconnect the host with the hosted,” Naeole said. “It’s really about people getting to know each other and visitors getting to learn about who Hawaiians were, are and want to be.”

Along with the range of free artisanal and panel discussions, other complimentary activities include a traditional awa, or kawa, ceremony; music and dance performances; films; native Hawaiian plant and tree presentations;, and even a sunrise Hiuwai or rejuvenation ceremony held down at the beach and in the ocean.

There are two ticketed components during the weekend. The Celebration Luau and Show starts at 6 p.m. on May 9, with pricing beginning at $100 for adults and $50 for children ages 5 to 12. Tickets for “The Legend of Koolau” play, beginning at 7:30 p.m. May 8, are $25 for adults and $15 for kids.

The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is also offering a special $259 room rate for the event, which includes the resort fee and parking costs, available only May 8, 9 and 10.

For more about the event schedule and detailed descriptions of all the festivities, visit www.celebrationofthearts.org.

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