The ABC's of APEC aloha

Hiilani Shibata
Hiilani Shibata
Representative Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai/Kalama Valley)
Representative Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai/Kalama Valley)

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At this time next week, the world's spotlight will shine on Hawaii. They're putting the finishing touches in place for APEC leaders' week. Over the past few months, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has dispatched "cultural attaches" to teach the finer points of Hawaiiana. Today, their last stop - the state capitol.

"You want to always say aloha and mahalo, right? Those things that we take for granted but really means a lot," says Hiilani Shibata, sitting in front of state legislators in a capitol conference room.

Shibata isn't testifying or giving a speech on manners. She's spreading the ABC's of aloha and preparing legislators for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference and summit.

"I think that really is a moment of truth - if we can greet people and share with them our Hawaiian language and culture. That really speaks to the place," Shibata tells lawmakers.

Hawaii takes center stage when high-level delegations from 21 Asian Pacific countries or economies, as they're referred to, meet here. That's why OHA invested $250,000 to train residents, including lawmakers, in hookipa - Hawaiian for being hospitable.

OHA trustee, Peter Apo, explains the importance of the training, "To function as true hosts, as a first nation to these 21 countries. In essence, us becoming the 22nd country, the cultural nation of Hawaii."

Legislators aren't the only ones who've been trained in native Hawaiian culture. Add to that, volunteers, hospitality workers, airport personnel, and others who are on the front lines of tourism.

Apo admits that a few folks take issue with spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for training and that, for some, there's always been a love-hate relationship with tourism in the state. But he believes the money spent is well worth it.

"We think that the Hawaiian culture gives us a kuleana (responsibility) that, no matter what the nature of the visit, that it is our kuleana to welcome people with dignity, with honor, and with love and with friendship. Aloha. That's the brand. "

Representative Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai/Kalama Valley) says today's lesson was a refresher course in all things Hawaiian. He just returned from a work trip to Taiwan last week - where people raved about Hawaii. He calls the aloha spirit our "charm offensive".

"But it's really the personal relationships, and that's where the charm offensive comes in. How you relate to people, how they relate to you and what they say, how, their whole demeanor. And that's really where we have a leg up," says Ward.

Along with the importance of Hawaiian culture and history, the trainers also emphasize the little things that volunteers and hospitality workers should know - things like where restaurants and services are located and things to do while in the islands.

With APEC just around the corner, this is the last cultural training session. Now, they wait for the big show to arrive.

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