Maui at its Most Hawaiian

Photo by Carol Fowler

Finding authentic culture on Maui should be a no-brainer

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Maui Hawaiiana, Hawaiian culture, is Maui’s best kept secret. There’s no need to journey far for this itinerary. Hawaiian culture surrounds you every moment, everywhere on Maui.

Entertainment on Maui

Slack key guitar  or ‘ukulele strains waft from every PA system. Jawaiian and Hapa, a Hawaiian-pop hybrid, blare from Lahaina and Kihei bars. And of course, hula expresses the Hawaiian world view. It’s everywhere. You’ll see it at sunset on hotel terraces and at their showy lu‘aus. You’ll find it in shopping centers and sometimes on the grass at beach parks. Some of the most touching hula may be done by elderly women whose ‘aunties’ taught them.

The hula show at Napili Kai, Old Lahaina Lu‘au, and Ka Hula Piko Festival on Moloka‘i are some of the most soulful performances.

Ancient Hawaiian sites on Maui

Ancient Hawaiians left their traces in old “roads” or trails, enormous heiau, petroglyphs and villages. Honoapi‘ilani (Pi‘ilani’s Road) Highway, which every tourist who stays on Northwest Maui travels, is named for Chief Pi‘ilani, who ordered a road to be built around Maui’s perimeter. You’ll find traces of it at Wai‘anapanapa State Park.

Other traces left by Hawaiians are images inscribed on rock, or petroglyphs. The best of them are on Lana‘i. On Maui you’ll find them at Olowalu.

Hawaii’s largest heiau, Pi‘ilanihale – another Pi‘ilani monument – rises like an enormous black-rock football field over Kahanu Garden, a National Tropical Botanical Garden. Some experts believe it is the largest place of worship in Polynesia.

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Maui cultural programs

Several hotels have excellent programs led by cultural specialists, Clifford Nae‘ole at the Ritz-Carlton, Kainoa Horcajo at Grand Wailea and the whole staff, it seems, at Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel. The Story of Hawaii Museum, a gem in Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center sketches in the broader picture. And get them to tell you about Queen Ka‘ahumanu, it’s another old Hawaiian story.

Even hiking can be an immersive Hawaiian experience.  Hike Maui integrates cultural experiences with the activities.

The link between Pi‘ilani’s days and now comes in the 1800s with the arrival of missionaries. The Congregational churches at Ke‘anae,  Keawala‘i and tiny Kipahulu evoke the missionary era.

Hale Ho‘ike‘ike (former Baily House Museum) in Wailuku and Baldwin House Museum in Lahaina offer specific glimpses into that era. The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum at Pu‘unene tells you what the missionary sons did. The Hana Cultural Center focuses on that East Maui spot from the ancients time through today. The Maui Swap Meet is about as Hawaiian as you can get, but it has nothing to do with the past.

Sometimes the real Hawai‘i is found in a village, Hana or Kahakuloa and sometimes it’s the whole island, like Moloka‘i, often called the “most Hawaiian” island.

And other times it’s as simple as a bowl of saimin in a Haiku café,  shave ice with Roselani ice cream or fresh juice from a hacked open coconut. Or Julia’s banana bread at Kahakuloa — you’ll never forget the drive there.

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