Travel Q&A | Clifford Ne’ole

  Tell us about living in Maui and how travellers can get the essence of this place when they visit. I certainly count my lucky stars every day that I drive down this road here and can see the ocean.  God has given me the ability to live here. I’m very thankful for it. That’s…

Photography by K&S Media


Tell us about living in Maui and how travellers can get the essence of this place when they visit.

I certainly count my lucky stars every day that I drive down this road here and can see the ocean.  God has given me the ability to live here. I’m very thankful for it.

That’s all part of the wellness that I want people to experience it’s not only about the feather beds and the service it’s from the minute you land you start opening your eyes.  I want you to be immersed in this place, not just the tangible things but the intangible side as well.

This morning, there were whales out here, all over the place.  It’s those little things that I want people to understand and I think here especially you can find yourself.  It’s not just about Hawaiian spirituality; your own spirituality will come to you.  I’m a very spiritual person.

When people are here they always tell me ‘from the minute I landed something grabbed me’.  Here on Maui especially when you’re landing at the airport you have the volcano on this side Haleakala, a male entity, on this mountains here, the other range are Pu’u Kukui.  So you have a male entity and a female entity and you’re right smack dab in the middle of the two.  I like to say you’re right in the bosom of these two heads that are saying welcome and the rest is up to you.

If you have an agenda that says you have to do this by 7:30 this by 4:30 you may never get the essence of what this place is all about.  But if you get lost, if you just stop the car, you pack a picnic basket and go find a beach by yourself, then you’ve got it.  Just cruise, be yourself.  That I think is the real essence of Hawaii is being able to find yourself.


How is Hawaiian culture integrated in the spa treatments at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Maui?

Here’s the trick to the spa treatment, when you’re done there you’re not done yet.  What you need to do is take a walk outside to the burial site.  We have one of the most sacred sites in all of Hawaii here at Honokahua Preservation Site. That’s when your treatment ends, is when you go down there to your ancestors.

We call it aumakua, aumakua is our ancestors who have gone before us and know they have come back as nature and they talk to us in dreams in the gut feeling, your conscience is that of your ancestors.  In part you are thinking seven generations behind you are your parents, seven generations in front of you will be your children.  You have that long to leave a legacy.  It’s not just about the skin, it’s about what you accomplish in this time that will leave a legacy.


When did you first learn about your family history?

My grandfather was pure Hawaiian.  And he lived in very old ways he had his own farm.  He had no wants in life.  He got everything he wanted from his farm.  He had his livestock, he had his taro, he had his shrimp, his water, bananas.  I used to work for him for $5 a day as a little kid, just go play in the mud and have fun.  And when I was about to graduate from high school he said two words to me in Hawaiian, he said kou manawa, and it means your turn.

So he was handing over the acreage to me to inherit and I said no.   I said I’m moving to California, I want to have a good time see the world.  And I made a really young and stupid mistake is when I told grandpa why don’t you just sell your land and take grandma on a cruise.  And I thought he was going to hit me.  He said, if I open my hand and you give me all the money in the world it’s just going to go through the crack of these fingers and I got nothing.  He says but if you turn your hand this way you can put it into the earth you can take out of the earth and put into your body and our family will be secure forever.  But I was a wise-ass to me that was a beautiful saying but it did not affect me because I was invincible.

So I went to the mainland for a few years came back and it was gone.  I asked why grandpa, why?  I thought you said you’d never sell your land.  He said you did not fulfill your destiny.  At that point I made my mind never to happen again and to educate people even if it’s just a shirt-button that’s an heirloom there’s something there that shouldn’t go to the graveyard.

So think about things.  From that point on that was my renaissance.  My greatest loss, was my greatest gain.  From there hula, the language, the chants and then once I had the chants then I got the spirituality and once the spirituality was seized it just flew open, it just blew open.  I continue to live that.   I come from a royal lineage, I come from a chiefly lineage.  I had neglected who I was.  Since then it’s been full speed ahead just so many good things.

I’m happy in my life and I’m trying to teach my kids the same thing.  Kids nowadays are into instant gratification, this is their whole world [makes action of playing videos].  They can change the whole world with this.  I tell my kids when I was a kid my greatest gift was a big old cardboard box somebody left me.  I would decorate it make it into my tank.  The imagination runs wild.


What are some of the values and missions of Hawaiians and Hawaii?

I guess one of the greatest is mea hoo kipa which is hospitality.  Unconditional hospitality.  Unfortunately when Hawaii was in its younger stages and the Westerners were coming in, that became confused with weakness.  And then that was taken advantage of.  So mea hoo kipa is there but with caution.  Because you can only put your hands in the fire so many times before you realize it’s hot.  We want to do this we try our best to do it.

So I think mea hoo kipa and that of providing aloha to people and aloha is a very used cliché.  Aloha is so vague but it is also so encompassing.  How do you say Namaste? That thing where it’s you, it’s a gift and without expectation of grand reward.

Another aspect is family, ohana.  That is key because no matter what we have in life, the ohana is there when you are born, the ohana will be there when you die.  Everything else in between is secondary.  How many billions of dollars you have when you die you are going out.  Family is very important.

For the traveller coming over they should look for these things, they should look for this welcome.  And don’t be afraid to open up too.  Do not come here on the other hand expecting servitude.  Expect relationships.


What is the easiest way to connect to your ancestral roots?

For myself it is to take a look around me and understand I am here simply because some Hawaiian, Polynesian guy centuries ago was chosen, because his DNA was the best, to come across the ocean.  He or she wherever they were the best at that time at navigation, tying knots, sailing, star navigation. They were chosen.  I am here simply because they made it.  So I don’t want to waste my DNA, I want to make sure that I carry on the traditions.  That’s what I try to tell the kids, especially those with Hawaiian blood.  You are here because somebody lived through this journey, we were here way, way, way before Columbus, Captain Cook and all these other guys were trying to make the map of the world.  We were dying here.  We are proud of that.

For the visitor it’s again to come and honour the culture.  Pick up a book, read something before you come over here.  Talk to local people when you are here.  Again, do not expect servitude.

Our motto here at the Ritz Carlton is we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.  We pride ourselves on that.  If they come with the same attitude, I’m a lady or gentleman who is having a relationship with a lady or gentlemen here then the whole vacation would be less drama.  They wouldn’t worry about nothing.  You get a whole lot more done.  […If] you come to us you know my wife and I really want to go see this what do you suggest. Now it comes from the heart, I’m going to say here it is have a great time.  The host and hostess have connected.  For too long there was a disconnect between host and hostess.

When I was a kid I used to climb coconut trees and take the coconuts and husk them and all the sailors would come in and I’d sell coconuts for 25 cents.  But if you bought a dollar’s worth I would take you to my grandmother’s house for lunch.  And my grandmother, I can still see this now, peeking out the kitchen window – she saw a dirty sailor walking down.   In those days I didn’t know we were poor.  We just lived life.  So if she could feed him peanut butter sandwiches then she did, if we had money it was tuna fish sandwiches with a glass of juice.  But what happened was afterwards, after those sailors got out of the navy they would come back and see her, bring their families, bring their wives.  A little point of host or hostess that they looked back on their lives.  Then the relationship was found.  So even after grandma had died they would still come back to the house and ask for her.  To me that’s mea hoo kipa. Because I hope someday when my son is out in the world someone will take the time to say ‘oh come’ and do the same thing.  It’s the golden rule treat others as you would have them treat you.

This is an adjunct to an article that first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.

Also check out Dave’s Travel Corner.