Promoting Cultural Values

By Lulani Arquette
Wednesday - May 07, 2008
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By Lulani Arquette
Executive Director of Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association

The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) is a small nonprofit with a big mission and an even bigger heart. When I was hired three years ago as NaHHA’s executive director, our board members said to me, “This is big.This is such a huge opportunity.”

What they were talking about was an effort to restore Hawaiian culture, traditions and values in the visitor industry in much greater ways and to encourage more Hawaiians to help shape the future of tourism. NaHHA’s 18 board members had helped promote the inclusion of the Hawaiian Culture Initiative in the State Tourism Strategic Plan in 2005. This has led to greater support of Hawaiian cultural projects in the community and allocation of resources for efforts to promote and perpetuate Hawaiian culture in Hawaii’s leading economic industry, tourism.

I have been involved in the Hawaiian community for more than 20 years, headed up organizations and have been a business owner. I returned to Hawaii 33 years ago after spending my youth and teenage life in Portland, Ore. My Hawaiian grandmother, Sarah Uma Kamakaholoi Parker Waipa, was born on Oahu in the Palama area. Grandma came from a big family of 18 kids. She played five musical instruments and had a beautiful voice; her sister practiced lua (Hawaiian martial art); and her brother was a star athlete who paddled with Duke Kahanamoku. Many of Grandma’s brothers were real kolohe (rascal) too, but I guess that’s to be expected with so many kids.

Grandma’s youngest brother used to bring visitors over to his Kaneohe property in small groups in the 1960s and 1970s. The family would tell stories and show Hawaiian artifacts, share music and hula, string flower lei from their garden and eat Hawaiian food. It became so popular that they finally had to discontinue it because they didn’t have enough space to accommodate everyone. This was community-based cultural tourism before there was even a name for it.

NaHHA Aloha Team
NaHHA Aloha Team: (sitting) Ani Pang, Lulani Arquette, Paula Franzmeier,(standing) Kuulei Williams, PamDavis-Lee, Dorien McClellan

The work that NaHHA is doing is not easy, but it is rewarding. We are the bridge between the Hawaiian community and the visitor industry. It is a fine line to navigate and one we take very seriously. We believe that if culturally aware Hawaiians don’t take a greater role to restore culture and values to the heart of the industry and step into leadership positions, then Hawaii tourism will lose its substance and unique identity. We are sensitive to the communities’ concerns about over-development, care of natural resources, lack of adequate infrastructure and number of visitors. These are concerns NaHHA has documented and continues to champion in its work with visitor industry leadership.

But NaHHA also understands the challenges tourism faces with increased competition from lower-cost destinations, high cost of conducting business, off-shore owners who aren’t sensitive to Hawaii’s issues and a deep concern about where they are going to get employees to staff up their hotels and businesses. NaHHA believes some of these issues can be addressed with greater participation from the Hawaiian community, stronger government policy and more innovative approaches within the visitor industry.

In the meantime, NaHHA’s Aloha Team (this is what I call my five staff members) Ku’ulei Williams, Ani Pang, Dorien McClellan, Pam Davis-Lee, and Paula Franzmeier continue to champion the needs of two important sectors - community and industry. We want to ensure that culture and values live on in the visitor industry, and both the Hawaiian community and the visitor industry benefit from NaHHA’s work.

Upcoming efforts include NaHHA’s Tourism Conference at the Hawaii Convention Center May 8 and 9. The conference theme is Ho’a Ka Lamaku - Keep the Torch Burning! Keynote speakers will be Pua Kanahele, a loea (expert) of Hawaiian cultural practices, scholar, educator, a renowned kumu hula and a living national treasure; and Dewitt Jones, one of the nation’s top professional photographers, who will share his spirit of aloha and explore life perspectives that allow access to higher levels of achievement in an outstanding presentation.

There will be Hawaiian artists’ exhibits and demonstrations, key sessions on work-force development and marketing, Hawaiian perspectives on place and strategies to take care of our natural resources, including an eye-opening documentary about pollution of the ocean. Kumu Hula Hokulani Holt-Padilla, together with members of the acclaimed original hula drama, Kahekili, will discuss and provide examples of chant, hula kahiko and Hawaiian martial arts to celebrate the influence and greatness of the great Chief Kahekilinuiahumanu. To register or for more information, go to or call 628-6370.


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