HAWAIʻI – Over the past few decades, many modern-day Native Hawaiians have returned to the reciprocal relationship their ancestors shared with the ‘āina (land), instilling practices born of that relationship throughout contemporary Hawaiʻi life. These lessons in stewardship, initially localized, have since spread globally through the practice of mālama honua (caring for, protecting and preserving the earth.) As the global community nurtures new generations of citizens who increasingly embrace sustainability and connectivity as part of their daily lives, Hawaiʻi and its cultural ambassadors practicing techniques of mālama honua have become role models for how humankind should conduct themselves while at home and abroad, whether traveling for business or pleasure.

The stories and experiences shared by the five Hawaiʻi-based cultural ambassadors profiled below frame opportunities for meetings and incentive groups traveling to the Islands to immerse themselves in life-enriching cultural interactions, experiences and knowledge beyond their event spaces and Hawaiʻi’s world-renowned natural wonder. Deeply embedded in their individual communities and wahi pana (sacred spaces), these ambassadors provide opportunities for groups to connect with and experience Hawaiʻi through a distinct lens of modern Hawaiian indigeneity.

Oʻahu: Kyle Reutner, Brand Manager, Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum

Traversing through the underbrush and scarlet-hued muddy slopes of central Oʻahu’s legendarily fertile agricultural lands, Kyle cuts through stands of eight-foot kō (sugar cane) in search of pakaweli, a prized stalk of purplish-green sugar cane treasured for its sweet juiciness. Stalks of the ancestral kō varietal Kyle eventually locates will be hand-harvested, pressed into juice and distilled at Kō Hana’s nearby distillery to create the spirit producer’s sweetly earthy rhum agricole, an artisanal rum crafted with pure cane juice. (Most modern rums are made from the sugar-processing byproduct, molasses.) Kyle and Kō Hana partner with noted Hawaii bars and restaurants – such as Bar Leather Apron and The Pig and the Lady – to create craft cocktail recipes with their agricole rum as they revive other ancestral kō varietals and experiment with unique flavors. Groups are welcome to visit Kō Hana’s distillery in the former pineapple plantation village of Kunia to enrich their Oʻahu visit with a tasting of the distillery’s agricole rums, and tour of its operations and native Hawaiian sugar cane garden.

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Maui: Kauʻi Kanakaʻole, Executive Director, Ala Kukui

The Native Hawaiian sense of being is believed to extend beyond the realm of human contact to also connect with nature – in essence, from the wao kanaka (realm of mankind) to the wao akua (realm of the gods) and beyond. Kauʻi, kumu hula (hula teacher) of hālau hula (hula group) Hālau o Nakaulakuhikuhi, has always cultivated an intimate relationship with the forests surrounding her home town of Hāna on the remote East Maui coastline. In these forests, she recognizes that the flora stretching from floor to canopy are more than just plants, but also verdant companions of her kūpuna (ancestors), continuing to lend their strength and beauty as adornments worn by her hālau. As such, she takes special care to mālama (preserve and protect) these precious natural resources and honor their purpose. Kauʻi brings her vivid understanding of place to her work at Ala Kukui, a Hawaiian cultural retreat in Hāna where she helps guests and visiting groups immerse themselves in and connect with the surrounding ʻāina (land).

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Island of Hawaiʻi: Keoni Kaholoaā, Interpretive Ranger, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
With two of the five volcanoes that comprise its landscape still geologically active, the island of Hawaiʻi is undeniably alive. On occasion, Pele, the Hawaiian deity associated with all of the Hawaiian Islands’ volcanoes, rises from her home in Kīlauea – one of those two active volcanoes – to again begin the process of creation in the form of a lava flow. Keoni, who claims to be a descendant of Pele’s lineage, has experienced her ascendance to Earth’s surface in the form of molten lava several times through his work. As a park ranger, he shares the tales of Pele with visitors. He explains that although the park’s vast expanses of lava – frozen mid-flow into long smooth ropes called pāhoehoe and sharp, jagged sections called ʻaʻā – may appear barren, there is actually life everywhere on Kīlauea. The natural revitalization of ecosystems begins on this new land where slowly flora and fauna rebuild and repopulate. Visitors are welcome to hike the diversity of trails throughout Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where Pele’s creation and the natural world are sanctified and commemorated.  

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Molokaʻi: Greg Solatorio, Cultural Practicioner, Hālawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike

Hālawa Valley, tucked into Molokaʻi’s remote east side, is home to Pilipo and Greg Solatorio, father and son, respectively, and direct descendants of the vast, emerald valley’s first settlers, who are believed to have arrived there in 650 A.D. While both are owner-operators of Hālawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike, Greg is the lead in safely and properly sheperding visitors through his family’s sacred lands, sharing his ʻike (knowledge) of Hālawa and his ancestors who once resided within the now largely unpopulated valley. A successful model of what a sustainable tour can and should be, as well as one of the first such tours launched in the Hawaiian Islands, the Hālawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike has Greg and Pilipo sharing an authentic Hawaiian cultural experience with visitors to Molokaʻi while managing community expectations and tourist impact to the Solatorio’s Hālawa ʻāina. Pilipo believes that culture is sacred but should not be kept a secret; that once the practice and sharing of culture stops, ʻike kūpuna (ancestral knowledge) also begins to fade away until it is lost forever. The Solatorios are assuring that never happens in Hālawa.

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 Kauaʻi: Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, Kalo Farmer, Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill

Kalo (taro) is a staple food grown in the tropic and subtropic regions of the world. The story of kalo is intricately woven into their origin of the Native Hawaiian people as a part of their genealogy. Kalo was one of the few sacred plants they traveled with across the Pacific Ocean and each part of the kalo plant has various uses. Kalo leaves are used in local dishes such as laulau and the kalo corm is mashed and pounded into poi, a local superfood, nutritiously dense and delicious. This is why to Native Hawaiians, the kalo plant represents more than just a plant and culinary delicacy.

Her work as a kalo farmer is physically demanding and her days off virtually nonexistent. But Lyndsey thrives in the intense momentum to continue a legacy, passed down through five generations of her family, to work its acres of loʻi kalo (irrigated taro terraces) in Hanalei on Kauaʻi’s north shore. She works the very same fields as her great-great grandparents, who founded the family farm and initially grew and milled rice there. Her passion for what she does drives her entrepreneurial work ethic as she continuously engages with Kauai’s resident and visitor communities. Lyndsey wears several work hats besides kalo farmer. She is the co-owner of Hanalei Taro and Juice Co. – a farm-to-table food truck parked across from the family farm – as well as the educational coordinator of Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill, an agrarian museum, tucked behind the kalo fields, within the structure of her family’s old mill. At the rice mill, groups can book a guided ecotour exploring Hanalei Valley, experience poi-pounding demonstrations and learn about Hanalei through the stories of her family’s successes and challenges as longtime area farmers.

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Enjoyed the videos shared here and wish to connect with these Hawaiʻi cultural ambassadors or learn about others like them? Watch the complete Hawaiʻi Rooted series of short films spotlighting an array of Hawaiʻi residents sharing the traditions of Hawaiʻi and Native Hawaiian culture and customs. You’ll find all of the videos at www.hawaiirooted.com.

Additional information, photos and interview opportunities are available upon request.