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Hawaii: Maui festival displays authentic traditions in posh hotel setting

Celebration of the Arts Festival this month on Maui offers a firsthand look at native traditions, from a sunrise cleansing ritual at the ocean to learning how leis are made with feathers.

The festival returns to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on March 25 and 26. Now in its 24th year, the event brings together many of the state’s best-known artisans, cultural practitioners, entertainers and speakers. Nearly all events are free too.

The festival is all about staying true to the islands’ roots. This year’s theme — "Kaike kuhohonu: deep thought" — focuses on mindfulness with an emphasis on encouraging younger people to embrace native traditions.

The events get underway bright and early March 25 with a traditional Hawaiian ceremony at D.T. Fleming Beach. Beginning at 5:45 a.m. as the sun rises, cultural gurus will offer chants as participants enter the water to cleanse and restore their bodies.

Throughout the two-day festival, visitors will learn traditional crafts, such as weaving, making leis from feathers and designing jewelry from shells. Families from Niihau, the seldom-visited “Forbidden Island,” will teach guests how to make jewelry using the unique shells they consider gems. There’s a $35 charge for materials.

Musicians and hula dancers will be among the entertainers performing at various times.

On March 26, the Celebration of Island Tastes presents a “down home” luau at which traditional foods are prepared by local families and vendors, not big caterers. Food items will be individually priced; there is a $10 entry fee.

Live entertainment will be featured during the 6-9 p.m. luau.

The festival was ranked as the state's top cultural event by Modern Luxury Hawaii magazine.

Info and tickets: Celebration of the Arts Festival, (808) 665-7089.

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