Educating on aloha

LIHUE — The values of aloha hospitality run deeper than phrases and clothing.

The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, a nonprofit that works to honor and perpetuate culture and to see it is represented in tourism, was in Lihue on Tuesday to conduct a training session at the Kauai Museum.

Staff and volunteers learned history, geography, culture and language to better understand their values and share that knowledge with others.

“Even the most knowledgable people may not know how to express and share with others,” said Pohai Ryan, executive director of NaHHA, who developed the program to train small tourism-related businesses about Hawaiian culture and values with funding from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Teaching to welcome visitors with aloha, respect and gratitude is the a main focus of the program. The hospitality industry should focus on caring, enlightening, and nurturing a love for the land with understanding, responsibility and accountability.

“History and culture is the foundation of Hawaii’s visitor industry,” Ryan added. “Without the culture, people would just go to other warm weather beach destinations.”

Ryan said the trainings are a way to teach people the importance and significance of reflecting cultural knowledge and values in the workplace. It generates energy internally and the attention is well received by customers.

The presentations are meant to develop a sense of place in the work environment.

“It benefits the business as a whole,” she said.

Kauai Museum Director Jane Gray, who invited NaHHA, said the classes reflect the museum’s change to an almost exclusive focus on Kauai and Niihau.

“The goal is not only for a positive visitor experience but to educate students and excite their teachers with the tools to teach them,” Gray said.

The afternoon presenter, Kumu Kehaulani Kekua, talked about the history of the ahapuaa, or the historic and cultural subdivisions around Kauai. Two decades ago, Kekuna worked at hotels where management began to rely on her to infuse cultural knowledge into the staff, and she excelled at aloha-brand cultural training.

Tired of having to readjust to new owners and managers, Kekuna embarked on a consultancy of her own.

“It wasn’t about the money,” she said. “I had no budget and I volunteered to teach about my culture.”

Understanding the power of place is a way to reflect the values of those that came before us, she said. Aina ike, or land knowledge, is one step toward protecting the ancient place names and their meanings.

There are more than 250 stories to describe different types of wind, she said. She navigates to places around the island using stories and poems while many more are lost.

Kekuna said the program is continuing the effort in the spirit of NaHHA founder George Kanahele.

“It brings to light the importance of traditional Hawaiian culture in the workplace,” she said.

Kekuna then offered a series of community forums on place which has been set aside until she settles into her new Studio Ha‘a hula halau in Kapaa.

“Hula is the one thing we have left that explains the life of our ancestors,” Kekuna said.

Former mayor Maryanne Kusaka said the program was a refreshing reminder of her childhood, where respect for parents and grandparents was instilled in the home. That respect continued onto the community, teachers and the police, she added.

Museum volunteer Chad Pharis said the program reflected on many of the names and places that he has read about in books about Kauai since moving here eight months ago. A retired school teacher from southern Idaho, he frequented Kauai for years and slowly prepared for a permanent move to where he feels he belongs, quoting a poem.

“It brought the places to life that I have been reading about,” he said.

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