Mayor off to Tahiti to explore cultural ties

LIHU’E — Mayor Maryanne Kusaka will join a 95-member delegation that will fly to Tahiti Saturday for an 11-day cultural and governmental exchange to strengthen ties between Kaua’i and Tahiti.

The July 8-19 trip will help reunite Kaua’i and Tahiti spiritually, Kusaka said after a meeting at the Lihu’e Civic Center to discuss the trip. Tahitians first arrived in Hawai’i, via Wailua Bay in East Kaua’i, 800 years ago, she said.

The trip will perpetuate the history and culture of Hawai’i and Tahiti, said Janil Ke, a Kaua’i Visitor Bureau official and hulu dancer who will perform in the event.

“Culture is always important because possibly it ties it to our past,” she said.

Kusaka, however, defended her latest trip to Tahiti and other trips to Japan, Philippines and other places to establish sister-city relationships with Kaua’i.

The pacts, she said, help break down barriers that might exists between people and foster good will.

Kaua’i County has pacts with three cities in Japan, three cities in the Philippines, one in Taiwan and Whitby, England.

Establishing a ninth pact with Tahiti may be more meaningful than the others because Tahitians and Hawaiians are Polynesians, and therefore, share a common bond, Kusaka said.

Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, is the most dramatic connection between Hawaii and Tahiti, said kuma hula Pohaku Nishimitsu.

Tahiti was the birthplace for Pele, who traveled to the Big Island, settling in the craters of Kilauea Volcano.

The Tahiti-Kaua’i pact, Kusaka said, is different because it is “culturally based.” By contrast, the pacts Kaua’i has with cities are generally driven by economics, aimed at encouraging more visitors to the island, Kusaka said.

For the Tahiti trip, the county will spend about $10,000 to cover the travel costs for Kusaka and at least four others.

The other 90 or so participants for the Tahiti event will raise funds to help cover their costs.

Among those that will travel with Kusaka are County Attorney Hartwell Blake, Nishimitsu and his assistant, Keahi Costa, and O’ahu-based journalist Vincent Lucero.

Blake is a member of Halau Kanikapahuolohi’au, a Kaua’i-based hula group led by Nishimitsu.

Members from Kahulaliwai, a halau for men, and Ka Waikahe Lani Maile, a halau for women, both led by kuma hula Blaine Kia, will be traveling to the Tahiti event.

Most of the Hawai’i participants in the Tahiti event will come from Kia’s two halau, generally based on O’ahu but which have members on O’ahu and Kaua’i.

Among the scheduled highlights of the trip: * Tahiti and Kaua’i representatives will exchange greetings and pay tribute to the ahupua’a leading to Papeno’o Valley, where the event will be held.

In a show of unification, sand and water from Hawai’i and Tahiti will be mixed.

* Two hundred people will travel in four-wheel drive vehicles for 1 1/2 hour en route to the valley At the halfway point, the Kaua’i delegation, led by Kusaka, will give gifts to occupants of the village of Te fa’aiti, who take care of the valley.

Once inside the valley, one Hawaiian and one Tahitian will enter Puna Haururu, a spring, to cleanse themselves.

The idea for the cultural exchange was hatched during the 10th Annual Kaua’i Tahiti Fete last year.

After Kia became good friends with a Tahiti representative, they discussed the possibility of the event. At a Tahiti Fete dinner last year, Kusaka threw her support behind the idea, Kia said.

The presence of Kusaka, as the highest ranking public official on Kaua’i, lends prestige to the event, Kia said.

“The sister city exchange and proclamation (to be signed by Kusaka and Papeno’o Mayor Henry Flohre to formally establish the relationship) add to the unification of the Tahiti,” Kia said.

In ancient days, only Tahitian chiefs traveled across the ocean to Hawai’i, and that, in modern times, it is only fitting Kusaka lead the delegation to Tahiti, Nishimitsu said.

On an official level, Kusaka will meet with government officials and look at technology used on Tahiti to generate electricity and dispose of garbage.

In addition, she will visit hydro plants, recycling centers and a recycling plant in Taravao.

Kusaka also will dedicate a monument recognizing that pact and will meet with the president of French Polynesia.

But it won’t be all work.

She will get to participate in a parade.

During their stay in Tahiti, some members of the Hawai’i entourage, including Kusaka, will stay at the Sheraton Tahiti Resort. Sixty-five other group members will stay at schools.

Yesterday, the first group from Hawai’i -23 people – flew from Honolulu to Tahiti for the event.

Plans call for the making of a videotape of the event that hopefully will be shown at schools in Hawai’i, said Beth Tokioka, public information officer for Kaua’i County.

“This is something that should be remembered,” she said.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 225, or lchang@pulitzer.net.

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