Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Tue March 31 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | March 31, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    3 Ways to Enjoy Kauai's Prince Kuhio Fest

    3 Ways to Enjoy Kauai's Prince Kuhio Fest

    Travelpulse file photo

    Carved with dramatic cliffs and canyons, encircled by mountainsides and dotted with bright green taro fields, Kauai overflows with natural beauty. But despite all the scenic glory, it's the people and traditional culture of this Hawaiian island that steals the spotlight. As Hawaii's oldest island, Kauai offers a fascinating glimpse into traditional Hawaiian history and culture that no other island can match. I was deeply moved by the warmth of the Hawaiian people and their pride in preserving their heritage. One of the best ways to dive into the culture is at the annual Prince Kuhio Celebration, held every March all over the island. Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole was born in 1871 and was often called the People’s Prince. He battled to uphold Hawaiian rights and culture after the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1883. Prince Kuhio distinguished himself as the first Hawaiian to serve in the U.S. Congress, and he established the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which preserved land for native Hawaiians. Prince Kuhio’s legacy of upholding Hawaiian culture is showcased with the Prince Kuhio Celebration. The festival is a non-stop explosion of Hawaiian food, music, dance, and rituals. Here are three suggestions on how to grab the most from this interactive festival:

    Take a Taste

    Food is probably the quickest way to explore a culture, and there are a lot of culinary opportunities at this festival. My first foray was during the royal dinner, which featured Hawaiian staples like lau lau, savory bundles of fish or pork wrapped in taro leaves, bright violet-hued pie made with purple Okinawa sweet

    potatoes, and haupia, a delicate coconut pudding. The hallmark of the meal was poi,which is an essential Hawaiian dish served with most meals. Poi is made from pounded taro root and looks like a lovely lavender paste.

    The taro plant is so sacred to Hawaiian culture that it’s considered an affront to argue whenever poi is served. With a sour taste and pasty texture, poi is an acquired taste unless you try the legendary Hanalei poi. Made fresh in Kauai, it boasts a sweet taste and smoother consistency. Hanalei poi is widely considered the best poi you can eat and I found myself shoveling up spoonfuls of it whenever I could, which was at several luaus.

    Learn the Lingo

    The Hawaiian language goes way beyond aloha. The language is a Polynesian dialect and boasts 13 letters. Whenever there are two vowels together, there is a break in the syllables. This is an important point to remember since many common Hawaiian words like luau and muu muu (moo oo moo oo) have this arrangement. During the fest, you'll hear many common terms like wahine for woman, kane for man, and kahuana for teacher. Hawaiians really appreciate when visitors try their language.

    Make Some Moves

    Dance is another Prince Kuhio Celebration highlight. Most performances feature an invitation for guests to join in, but I learned much more than how to swivel my hips. The first thing that I discovered is that the sensual hula that most tourists envision is only one version of hula dance — hula auana, which is contemporary hula characterized by rotating hips and expressive arms. Hula kahiko features rigid arms, and is the ancient form of hula performed with percussion and chants. Watching the rapid-fire hip shaking of hula auana dancers and the elegant physical narration of hula kahiko, I glimpsed thousands of years of Hawaiian history.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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