Perpetuating Hawaiian Culture

In 1871, Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole was born near the Po’ipu coast, where Prince Kuhio Park is today, and was educated in California and England. As a descendant of Kaua’i’s King Kaumuali’i, Prince Kuhio’s chance for ascending the throne was thwarted by the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. Kuhio spent two years in jail as a political prisoner for plotting a counter-revolutionary attempt, and in 1903 he was elected as Republican delegate to Congress. Kaua’i’s beloved aristocrat died in 1922 and is celebrated for dedicating his life to the well-being of his people.

“Prince Kuhio was an ali’i who knew the world was changing and was willing to change with it,” says Carla Thomas, human resources director at Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort and Spa. Thomas, Margy Parker, one of the creators of the Prince Kuhio Festival, my husband Dan and I and are enjoying A Royal Dinner at Plantation Gardens Restaurant & Bar.

As part of Kaua’i’s annual celebration of Prince Kuhio’s life, the three-course meal prepared by chef James Burgess is fit for a king – a king whose birthday is March 26 and recognized as a state holiday. Baby spinach, spicy arugula, knobs of feta cheese and slivers of red onion are tossed with orange segments and a sweet orange sesame vinaigrette. Big hunks of beef, pork and sweet potato in the lau lau are rendered tender from eight hours of steaming. Succulent taro leaves are wrapped around rich meat, and a side of sour poi is a delicious, authentic addition. A smooth, creamy topping of coconut pudding sits on a savory layer of pureed purple sweet potatoes. We enjoy our Haupia Sweet Potato Pie with a Prince Kuhio Cocktail made of Kahlua, macadamia nut liqueur, coconut, pineapple juice and cream.

“At the Hyatt, we want to make sure we give accurate information about our Hawaiian culture,” says Thomas as our salad is served. “When we hire new people, they have oneand-a-half days of training. The first day is business-oriented, and they spend half of the second day with Aunty Stella learning about Hawaiian culture.”

That would be Stella Burgess, manager of Hawaiian culture and community relations at Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort and Spa, who organizes the two-week celebration held each March. The festival has become a signature event for the state and includes a canoe race, music, hula, talk story with kupuna, Hawaiian culture and art practices, a luau and a free visit to Hanapepe Salt Pond, where guests learn about pa’akai, or making sea salt. New this year is a guided tour of Makauwahi Cave. Dr. David Burney and wife Linda Pigott Burney created the 17-acre reserve in which Makauwahi Cave is located. It’s the biggest limestone cave in the state, and 7,000 years ago the roof collapsed, a lake formed and preserved fossils as well as human DNA that points to our first arrival.

The resort also perpetuates Hawaiian culture with Na Lima Hana, a three-day festival held each October that fosters learning by going back to the source. “Na lima hana” means “many hands working,” and participants make lei, weave with endemic plants, learn uses of medicinal plants, as well as the techniques for salt-making, drum-making, lomilomi (traditional massage), lau hala weaving, kapa (tapa) cloth making, ancient chants, hula, the uses of kalo (taro) and stone carving.

For more information, visit, or call Stella Burgess at 240-6369.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit