A VALUABLE HAWAIIAN CULTURAL EXPERIENCE ... BEYOND THE LUAUS AND LEIS IN LAHAINA

    Walking or driving north along Front Street from the south part of Lahaina toward the center of town on a summer evening, visitors pass some non-descript public basketball and tennis courts on their right.  Looking for a restaurant with a sunset view of the Pacific, a tourist could be forgiven for not noticing the local teens running, shooting, dunking, serving, volleying and otherwise hanging out being teenagers.  Historical placards abound within sight of these kids, attesting to the historical significance of buildings or events that stood or occurred nearby.  Buildings or events that comprise some important part of the Hawaiian cultural experience.  As darkness falls over Lahaina, a visitor might also think that the only place to experience Hawaiian culture would be at the half dozen or so popular luaus on Maui that draw tourists every evening with the promise of a genuine Hawaiian cultural experience, authentic Hawaiian food, and perhaps not-so-authentic Hawaiian cocktails.  These luaus are highly produced and condense a large amount of cultural information into a small space and a couple of hours. 

     Yet, on these warm summer nights - under the sometimes unpleasant glare of streetlights or the brilliant lights on the sports courts - these young men and women put down their basketballs and rackets to do something that the tourist luaus do not:  pass the meaning, method, and importance of their culture from Hawaiian to Hawaiian.  If tourists were to return to the public courts after they enjoyed their poi and Kahlua pork, usually after 10pm, they would find the kids learning and practicing the hula.  With a couple of parents or mentors in attendance who generally sit silently off to the side, the kids themselves are immersed and fully engaged in perpetuating and participating in their cultural heritage.  The young ladies practice their dances on the basketball court - barefoot - in their sarongs and everyday tank tops.  The young men - some now shirtless and again all barefoot - dance on the tennis court.  Some of the guys spend the evening sitting on the basketball court, providing the soundtrack for the ladies' practice with ukulele, drums and gourds.

     Sitting on the sidewalk quietly watching, a visitor might remark how seriously these kids take their art.  There is virtually no rambunctiousness and are no discernible uncontrolled raging outbursts, behaviors that might generally and perhaps unfairly be attributed in other parts of the United States to overstimulated, underachieving American teens.  These young ladies and men are constructively engaged with their peers ... and with their culture.  Mind you, this is practice, so there is no scheduled or staged performance and there are no costumes or lights ... save the streetlights and sports lights.  The practice also varies night-to-night and hour-by-hour.  After practicing individually, the entire group may dance together with each gender performing the dance according to traditional roles.  Sometimes at the end of the night - just before 11pm - the kids would rehearse everything they learned.  This makes for quite a beautiful end to the evening.  A visitor will feel privileged to watch these self-motivated kids take such personal responsibility for their cultural identity.  If you go, sit on the sidewalk quietly and take it in.  It won't be a drum-filled extravaganza like the Drums Of The Pacific or a gourmet Feast At Lele, but it will be a great experience watching Hawaiians nurture their history and pass it on to future generations.