Ditch the tiki bar for an authentic Hawaii experience? I don't think so!
There's an interesting story floating about in e-space about how hotels in Hawaii are getting away fake Hawaiian kitsch and embracing the real culture. I'm for all it. To a point.
First, here's a bit of the story from Associated Press.
"Coconut bras aren't Hawaiian. Neither are grass skirts. Tiki bars? They're from California. Yet they're all among the most recognizable symbols of a Hawaiian vacation. Now, many resorts in Hawaii are hoping to change those images, edging away from these kitschy marketing inventions and toward real-life Hawaiian traditions that can make the trip to the islands more special for travelers.
Driving the movement, in part, is economics. Tourism leaders know Hawaii needs to highlight what makes the islands unique to compete with other sun-and-surf destinations like Florida, Mexico and Thailand. But the turn is also the latest sign of a Native Hawaiian renaissance with more locals studying Hawaiian language, reviving traditional styles of hula and learning ancient skills like using stars to navigate the ocean."
I'm a huge booster of Hawaiian culture. I've gone up into the West Maui mountains with conservation types to learn how they're rooting out non-indigenous and harmful plants. I've ridden in outrigger canoes with old-timers who try to impart knowledge of ancient Hawaiian ways to the sun-seekers who flock to the condos and hotels of Kihei and Wailea.
I'm all for embracing the real Hawaiian culture. To a point.
Because, in the end, we're all imports; Hawaiians more than anyone. The original Hawaiians are believed to have come from Tahiti. Others came from the Marquesas. Later came Englishmen and Portuguese and Chinese and Japanese and Americans and Canadians and tons more.
Yes, some of us "brought the white man's burden down" as the Eagles sing in "The Last Resort." But we also brought some good things, including tiki bars, which are one of the great inventions of all time. The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel on Maui, which prides itself in teaching folks about ancient canoes and making of lei's and other Hawaiian crafts, has a large, open bar that's perfect tiki bar. It even says Tki Bar, as you can see from the photo above. And it's great.
The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel also has a guy who'll teach you to play a little ukelele. It's almost a national symbol and it's played by more and more Hawaiians all the time. It's been around for years, but it came from Europeans.
Personally I can live without the coconut bras and the grass skirts and some of the other trappings. But I guess what I'm saying is that it's pretty arbitrary to decide what's real Hawaiian and what isn't. They've had to bring in sand and make physical alterations at time to make Waikiki Beach what it is and I don't hear many tourists or hotel operators complaining.
We all can get caught up in the "authentic" holiday experience. It's nice, but people who go crazy about how THEY had the most authentic experience drive me crazy. It's like a club and they're special members and the rest of us didn't get to see the real thing. But who's to say what's really authentic. A group of women living in the Andes who make blankets in a village and sell them to tourists; is that authentic? It looks like it compared to a cruise ship stopping at an isolated island they own in Haiti, sure. But it's hard for me to say what's real and what's manufactured and what's manufactured to look and what's real but looks manufactured.
I mean, is Old Montreal authentic, with its horse-drawn carriages and cobblestone streets and mod furniture shops and cool bars? I don't know. But I like it a lot. I like DisneyWorld, too. It's not the least bit "authentic." But people go and have real experiences with their families and come home happy.
When I go to Hawaii I love to hear stories of old-timers crossing the seas without the help of navigational tools. I''m not in the habit of buying coconut bras or grass skirts, but I love to sip a mai-tai (invented in California, I've heard) at a tiki bar. So I guess I'm guilty of something...