Our feet sunk into sand, and we looked out across the ocean to the west. Somewhere, across the channel, Maui was in the distance, but all we could see was the Pacific lapping against the shore.
And then it struck. Healani Kimitete-Ah Mow's words boomed as she began the e ala e (morning chant), her melodic, powerful voice bouncing of the Hapuna Beach Resort behind us. It was 6:30 a.m. on Hawaii Island's west coast and now I was fully awake, Kimitete-Ah Mow having used her sonic powers to blast away morning cobwebs.
On this morning in April, no one else showed up for the ritual that welcomes the sun and starts the day on the right note, but on other days she may lead a group of a dozen or more through the ceremony.
"The ceremony releases and cleanses the spirit on the path and starts the day on a good note," she said. "You open the day by sharing, by showing respect for the area and the ancestors that came before you."
The e ala e starts by facing east as the sun rises, and the beginning of the chant welcomes and awakens the sun.
"When the rays touch the land it cleanses everything from the past and you can move forward through the day," she said.
Kimitete-Ah Mow joined the resort in January, serving as the aloha ambassador for Mauna Kea Resort and Hapuna Beach Resort, and the morning ceremony is part of a series of new cultural programming she has helped introduce. Other classes and workshops include Hawaiian language lessons, feather work, lei making and ukulele and hula lessons.
"With the hula lessons it's not just a dance where you shake your hips and wave your hands around," she said. "There is a protocol involved. We teach a traditional type of hula that incorporates everything we see, touch and smell - all of our elements."
Additionally, Kimitete-Ah Mow also narrates a portion of the biweekly luau, where she explains the imu (underground oven) traditionally used to cook pork and other delicacies.
The lei lessons offer two different varieties, one fashioned out of leaves only with no tools, and a more modern lei using flowers done with needle and string.
Through the language lessons, Kimitete-Ah Mow hopes to offer participants a closer look at Hawaiian society, culture and geography.
"I think a lot of people come to the islands and they see all these Hawaiian names, and they try to sound it out but it gets butchered," she said. "We show them how to read the Hawaiian alphabet and accents and correctly pronounce the words. Then we discuss the vocabulary and how it reflects our area and district, so they have context for what they are learning."
Though Kimitete-Ah Mow has only been at the property a short time, she is already crafting ideas for augmenting cultural programs in the future. There are plans to build a formal cultural center which will house some of the Hawaiian artifacts owned by the resort. She is also designing general Hawaiian history lessons and a couple of walking tours that will take guests through the grounds while sharing various stories about the region.
"I really want to bring the area, and the stories and history behind it, to life," she said.