One of the nicest things about traveling somewhere new is observing (and partaking in!) all the cultural rituals you'd normally ignore at home.
MAUI – There are many reasons why a vacation to the Hawaiian islands would be good for you right now. They're remote, lush, tropical, quiet, and imbued with tradition. With every salty, sweet, GMO-free inhalation of fresh air you feel more grounded to the Earth. No wonder many a surfer/yogi/honeymooner has found their way here, settled in, and emerged a happier, healthier person (at least for a little while).
Oh look, there's a rainbow.
On a recent trip to the islands, I got swept up in the aloha spirit. Even travelers without an iota of knowledge about Hawaiian rituals can easily take part if they just ask (I wouldn't normally say this, but here, the concierge is a good place to start). Starwood Hotels, for example, has on-site culutral ambassadors and ceremonial officiants ready to give your trip real roots. It was through the Sheraton Maui Resort that I learned about the E Ala E of Hi'uwai, a ceremony of awakening at first light.
In ancient Hawaii, a bath taken between midnight and sunrise was regarded as a purification ritual. For Hawaiians today, E Ala E is the ceremonial practice of clearing the mind and body before an important event. It literally means "awaken" — and that's the simple gist. You greet the sun at first light and chant to wake up the fiery, life-giving orb.
Fred Torres, the cermonial officiant at Sheraton Maui Resort, performs it gratis for brides- and grooms-to-be and also hosts a large ceremony on Ka'anapali Beach every New Year's Day for whomever would like to join. For soon-to-be-married couples, a Hi'uwai sets the dial to zero, leaves the past behind, and awakens the start of a new journey and relationship. For the rest of us, it's a way to forgive the past and set new intentions for the future.
Here's how it works: People gather before sunrise on the beach and face the horizon. Torres facilitates the next steps, asking people to release their burdens and emotions as they walk into the sea. Wade, dive, dip, or float focusing on new intentions. As people wade to shore, there's no looking back. Instead, everyone turns east while chanting "e ala e" to start a new day.
For Torres, who grew up on Oahu, it's a joy to introduce visitors to native culture. "In the 1980s, sovereignty and heritage were big issues that were coming to a head," particularly with the onslaught on tourism to the islands. "I thought there must be a way to make people aware that the cultural values and relics of the past were worth saving. We needed to shift the paradigm."
He decided to build programming that could teach individuals, businesses, and corporations from the mainland how to approach Hawaii in a thoughtful way. He asked a local college to create a curriculum called Sense of Place that he could administer to interested parties. "When we had the first cleansing here on the beach, people were excited to get involved. It worked! You have to believe. And then it really does work."
All you need is a swimsuit, a towel, and an open mind.
Take part in E Ala E on your next trip to Maui by inquiring with Sheraton Maui Resort services.