Connecting Culture and Community
"I can take a guest anywhere on the resort and tell a story," says Kalei ʻ Uwēko'olani, Grand Wailea's Cultural Programming Manager and Leadership Educator. "Hawaiians are storytellers. They tell stories in the hopes that they will be passed on. So wherever I go with guests on the property, I can talk about the landscapes we see—the mountains, the clouds, the ocean—and I share stories about how the natural world has shaped our experience."
Kalei pauses for breath before continuing. “This is not only a resort. This is a place of connection. I can give guests a better sense of respect, understanding, and appreciation for where they are—in our islands.”
If you take one of Kalei’s popular weekly cultural tours, you will no doubt feel this connection. Kalei’s passion for her island home of Maui and her Hawaiian heritage is palpable. Her tours illustrate how the history, culture, medicine, and traditions of Hawaiʻi are intertwined in every part of our resort—in our lush landscapes, our world-class art collection, our locally influenced architecture, and our people.
She has the ability to show how unseen details have an outsized impact. For instance, ancient Hawaiians followed a system of land division that featured the use of ahupuaʻa, sustainable wedge-shaped plots of land that ran from the mountains to the sea, giving every member of the community a fair chance to cultivate a wide range of resources spanning the entire island ecosystem.
Kalei explains that the layout of Grand Wailea mimics that of an ancient ahupuaʻa, with the mountain-to-ocean concept incorporated as a key design feature—an homage to this ancient practice. Or how from the air, the resort is shaped like a honu (sea turtle), considered a sacred creature in Hawaiian culture. Or how even the orientation of the resort and the rooms—aligned toward either the winter or summer solstice—is a small, unseen tribute to the navigation techniques of the ancient Polynesian explorers who once plied the waters of Wailea.
“I love engaging with people and sharing the knowledge I have,” she says. “My job here is not to entertain but to educate.”
Through her range of engaging cultural activities suitable for all ages, Kalei manages to do both in a fun manner, including through the group and private ukulele and hula lessons she teaches. “I can teach hula with my eyes closed,” laughs Kalei. “Hula feels almost like a mother tongue to me.” These lessons are complemented by our popular and spectacular lūʻau, which features traditional ceremonies, music, and dishes.
In addition to these showcase cultural experiences, Kalei organizes activities ranging from lauhala bracelet weaving (using leaves from the Pandanus tree) to kōnane (a board game similar to checkers), giving guests immersive, hands-on opportunities to delve further into Hawaiian culture.
“It’s not only about bringing these crafts to life, but also about creating memories,” she explains. “At the same time, these crafts are living treasures that have been passed down with the hope that they will live on.”
“As a liaison between culture and community, this is my responsibility. This is where I need to be. This is where I should be.”
Breathing New Life into ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language)
Or, in English: “The month of February shall be known and designated as ‘‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Month’ to celebrate and encourage the use of Hawaiian language.”