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Island as Ship, Sea as Road - Insights from the 4th Hawaii 2023 Cultural Sustainability Educational

The fourth “Hawaii 2023 Cultural Sustainability Educational Tour,” sponsored by the "Weici Huatung Youth International Bursary Fund," took place in May, marking an exciting return after the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the event the previous year. Despite extensive training in outrigger canoeing, traditional indigenous dances, and international etiquette, members remained unprepared until they set foot in Hawaii, where they were immersed in a world of natural wonders and cultural richness.

Embracing the Aesthetics of Public Spaces

Hawaii's natural beauty left a profound impression, not just for its scenic wonders but also for the "beauty in daily life." Airports featured artist's paintings instead of excessive promotional posters, while hotel decor incorporated natural materials like rattan, tree bark, and stones. Even popular tourist spots like Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park and waterfall areas maintained an uncluttered appearance with no intrusive signage or chaotic food stalls. Everywhere, a harmonious earthy color scheme blended seamlessly with the surroundings, emphasizing the ocean and mountains, with vibrant colors reserved for flowers and cheerful Hawaiian shirts. Hawaii's commitment to aesthetics was evident in these meticulous details.

Culture as Hawaii's Universal Language

Hawaii's culture and language are intertwined, with introductions often starting in Hawaiian. Signs at attractions frequently featured both Hawaiian and English, immersing visitors in the local worldview and language. Hawaii's rich mythology, including tales of the volcano goddess Pele and the island's deities, added depth and intrigue to the local tourism experience. Hula and music played a central role in conveying culture, from encounters with legendary figures such as Mr. Kimokeo Kapahulehua during canoeing experiences to interactions with Kamehameha Schools students, who welcomed us with beautiful chants. This cultural influence transcended geographic and ethnic boundaries, becoming a universal language.

Land and Sea, the Most Important Assets

Hawaii, a prominent tourism destination, prioritizes environmental conservation in tourism development. Notably, they prohibit commercial fishing to protect the coastal environment. However, what left a lasting impression was the locals' dedication to preserving the pristine coastline. Several residents "adopt the beach" because "the land and the sea are the home of each one of us." This shared commitment illustrates the significance of land and sea to Hawaiians.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Tourism

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), a prominent tourist attraction, has a mission of "cultural preservation." It employs around 80% of its staff, approximately 800 individuals, from Brigham Young University Hawaii (BYUH) students. Each cultural village recruits students from their respective ethnic groups as guides or performers, allowing students to connect with their heritage. PCC hopes that graduates will take their traditional culture back to their own countries to promote it. Similarly, Outrigger Hotels prioritize promoting Hawaiian culture as their core mission, offering guests the opportunity to experience hula and traditional musical instruments and chants. These initiatives demonstrate the potential for businesses to carry the social responsibility of cultural preservation.

Breaking Boundaries with Inclusive Worldview

Hawaii's inclusive worldview was evident in the adaptability of their culture. Hawaiian culture allows individuals to express hula in their unique way as long as the audience understands. Innovations in traditional Hawaiian food, like replacing raw fish with purple sweet potatoes and beets in "poke," showcased Hawaii's diversity and adaptability. Hawaii's approach to tradition demonstrated a high degree of inclusivity and an ability to evolve with each generation.

Hawaii's emphasis on 'ohana, which means both family and taro, symbolized their strong sense of belonging and inclusivity. The concept extends to parents, siblings, relatives, visitors, or partners with common interests. 'Ohana illustrates Hawaii's inclusive worldview.

An Exciting and Packed Journey

Our journey in Hawaii was filled with exciting experiences, from stepping into taro fields with cultural significance to watching "Ha: Breath of Life" at PCC, a world-class performance. In Toaluau Botanical Garden, members encountered delightful cultural experiences on a smaller scale. A Love Boat cruise dinner demonstrated how experiential design can create festive events with a sense of ceremony. These experiences engaged members’ senses and enriched their journey.

Outrigger Canoeing Experience

In the outrigger canoeing experience, members learned the importance of paddling together, emphasizing teamwork over individual speed. The experience also included a lesson in deep observation of nature, called "Hilo Kilo," where members observed nature's subtle cues, reflecting Hawaiians' profound connection to their environment.

Visit to Kamehameha Schools

Kamehameha Schools exclusively admit students with Hawaiian ancestry and integrate traditional Hawaiian culture into modern education. Students learn subjects like physics, music, and navigation through Hawaiian methods, fostering a strong cultural connection.

Bishop Museum

The journey concluded with a visit to the Bishop Museum, where members explored the rich maritime culture and linguistic diversity of Pacific islands. An interactive installation highlighted the linguistic connections among these islands, emphasizing the idea of the "Island as a ship, sea as a road."

Taiwan's Advantages & Challenges and the Power of Collaboration

The tour led members’ to reflect on values such as kindness, a connection to the land, and aesthetics. Hawaii's emphasis on ocean culture, environmental consciousness, and design aesthetics aligned with these values. However, Hawaii also faces challenges, such as noise pollution from wind power generation and rising living costs due to tourism. Returning to Taiwan, members recognized the diverse cultural foundation of indigenous peoples living in different environments but also acknowledged the challenges in fostering collaboration and consensus among them.

The journey in Hawaii brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities, fostering collaboration and understanding. As barriers dissolved, members transitioned from being strangers to appreciating one another. This experience demonstrated the potential for unity and collaboration among Taiwan's diverse groups.

Nurturing and Preserving Culture

Hawaii's ability to evolve its traditional culture with the times raised questions for Taiwan. What should be preserved, and what should evolve? These questions underscored the responsibility of preserving and nurturing culture in Taiwan, as the actions and dialogues from this journey have only just begun.


Photography by Wang Luqi, Wang Tingyao, Qiu Wanling, Lin Meijun, Yao Ruoqing, Cao Xuanrong, and Zhuang Huifang


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