Despite the ever-increasing influx of foreign people and customs, Native Hawaiian culture is experiencing a rebirth. It began in earnest in 1976, when members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society launched Hokule'a, a double-hulled canoe of the sort that hadn’t been seen on these shores in centuries. In their craft, named for ancient Hawaiians’ guiding star, “Star of Gladness” (Arcturus to Westerners), the daring crew sailed 2,500 miles to Tahiti without modern instruments, relying instead on ancient navigational techniques. Most historians at that time discounted Polynesian wayfinding methods as rudimentary; the prevailing theory was that Pacific Islanders had discovered Hawaii by accident, not intention. The success of modern voyagers sparked a fire in the hearts of indigenous islanders across the Pacific, who reclaimed their identity as a sophisticated, powerful people with unique wisdom to offer the world. Maui’s voyaging society, founded in 1975, proudly launched its own 62-foot sailing canoe, Mo'okiha O Pi'ilani, in 2014.
The Hawaiian language has found new life, too. In 1984, a group of educators and parents recognized that, with fewer than 50 children fluent in Hawaiian, the language was dangerously close to extinction. They started a preschool where keiki (children) learned lessons purely in Hawaiian. They overcame numerous bureaucratic obstacles (including a law still on the books forbidding instruction in Hawaiian) to establish Hawaiian-language-immersion programs across the state that run from preschool through post-graduate education. In 2001, Maui celebrated the high school graduation of its first class of students to be in such a program from kindergarten on. Native Hawaiian cultural advisors, grounded in both the language and traditions of their forebears, have become de rigueur for most large hotels and resorts.
Hula—which never fully disappeared despite the missionaries’ best efforts—is thriving. At the Big Island’s annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, which commemorates King Kalakaua, hula halau (troupes) from Hawaii and beyond gather to demonstrate their skill and artistry. Fans of the ancient dance form are glued to the live broadcast (or live stream, watched from around the globe) of what is known as the Olympics of hula; Maui’s dancers have taken top honors many times. Maui also hosts two long-running hula competitions: one for child soloists, Hula O Na Keiki, and a sort of all-stars contest for adults, Ku Mai Ka Hula. Kumu hula (hula teachers) have safeguarded many Hawaiian cultural practices as part of their art: the making of kapa, the collection and cultivation of native herbs, and the observation of kuleana, an individual’s responsibility to the community.
In Maui County, visitors are welcome to share in that kuleana by, among other volunteer opportunities, restoring fish ponds on Maui and Molokai, removing invasive plants in Haleakala National Park, joining nonprofit groups reforesting Kahoolawe, counting whales from Maui’s shoreline, or caring for cats at sanctuaries on Lanai and Molokai, which protects endangered native and migratory birds. You can also help safeguard this fragile environment by using reef-friendly sunscreen, packing a reusable water bottle, and refraining from littering. Sharing the aloha that you receive, with a smile, a wave, or friendly conversation, will help preserve Hawaii’s unique culture, but is also its own reward.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.