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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

ADB meeting
Hawaiian culture given prominent exposure

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Advertiser special: ADB in Hawai'i — global issues, local impact

By Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writer

In an act that captured the symbolism of the day, the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting began in Honolulu yesterday with the call from a conch shell reverberating through the huge lobby of the Hawai'i Convention Center.

Asian Development Bank Secretary Bindu Lohani checked out the kukui nut products on display at the Convention Center yesterday.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

From the start, the international bank meeting carried a thoroughly Hawaiian feel as participants gathered in the spacious center for the first of five days of events focusing on programs to spur economic development in the poorer parts of Asia.

If Asia was the context, Hawai'i was the eager and ambitious host, offering a few new touches and some prominent images. Chief among them visually was an exhibition site, something of a business and cultural trade show, called the Global Pavilion.

The pavilion was a first for an Asian Development Bank meeting, and the site's centerpiece left no doubt what the host organizers mean to promote to the assembled group of 3,000 credentialed participants from throughout Asia and Europe.

In the center of the room sat an 80- by 90-foot display of Hawai'i complete with huge murals depicting scenes from Lahaina to Waimanalo. This was the mammoth promotional tool that the state's visitor and convention bureau uses in travel shows across North America. Never before, however, had it been set up in Hawai'i.

Bindu Lohani, secretary of the bank, said the pavilion offered a new dimension for what meeting hosts could provide in the future.

"We already have so many unique features here in Hawai'i," he said. Another feature not seen by delegates before was the inclusion inside the center of a Hawaiian cultural group, Aha Ho'okele, with several dozen members drawing attention to their pavilion site. The group offered examples of Hawaiian culture, from native plants to traditional lei-making and weaving.

Member Sol Naluai brought hats woven 70 years ago by his mother, Luka Ma'awa, using the dried and flattened pieces of seed pods from haole koa trees.

Perhaps more significantly, the group also spread out along tabletops copies of treaties that, they said, revealed the unfair treatment that Hawaiian people have endured for more than a century.

Group leader Bumpy Kanahele said that, while such a Hawaiian rights group might have been outsiders in years past, he was satisfied with the chance that organizers had provided for the group to be inside the center, engaging with visiting dignitaries.

"We needed to do this," he said. "You know what, this is about all of Hawai'i and how we're perceived in the rest of the world."

The overall attitude, while not new to Hawai'i, was a bit different at a staid ADB meeting, visitors said. Some seemed to like it.

"This is a bit good," said Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmad, head of environment for the Kuala Lumpur City Council in Malaysia. "You're blending the culture with the center itself."

At most international events in Southeast Asia, he said, local culture is relegated to secondary purposes such as entertainment during an official dinner. But that leaves the culture isolated.

"In this case, you're having it as part of things," he said. "I like it. This is how to make the culture live."

By the end of the afternoon, as a group of the Hawaiians left through the lobby, several said they enjoyed the unusual experience and felt as though their presence had brought an important local touch to the prestigious and rather formal international event.

"For me, it did," Kahilihiwa Kipapa said. She described the good feeling when visitors stopped by the group's booth to ask about native plants or historic artifacts on display. Others nodded.

"It's the first time I've been to something like this," said William Waiohu Jr.

Outside, the group gathered just outside the huge lobby windows. They seemed in no hurry to leave.