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Hawaii: Maui festival displays authentic traditions in posh hotel setting

Hawaii: Maui festival displays authentic traditions in posh hotel setting
In Hawaii, leis can be made not only of flowers or shells, but also from colorful feathers, as this woman demonstrates at Celebration of the Arts Festival, one of Hawaii's top cultural events. (Celebration of the Arts Festival)

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.

A practitioner of traditional Hawaii culture observes as participants cleanse themselves in the ocean off Maui during a sunrise ritual.
A practitioner of traditional Hawaii culture observes as participants cleanse themselves in the ocean off Maui during a sunrise ritual. (Celebration of the Arts Festival)

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.

The ancient Hawaiian tradition of casting a hand-woven net to catch fish is among the cultural activities typically demonstrated at the annual event.
The ancient Hawaiian tradition of casting a hand-woven net to catch fish is among the cultural activities typically demonstrated at the annual event. (Celebration of the Arts Festival)

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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