One thing I’ve learned about living in Hawaii is that almost every event is preceded with protocol of some sort.
In the days of dugout canoes and hard walks from one ahupuaa--district--to another, the welcome protocol included introductions of long genealogy chants, offerings of hookupu—gifts—and ceremonial food and drink. Today, leadership conferences, first baby luaus, grand openings and house blessings are all preceded with a pule—prayer.
I’ve written a few posts about technology on this blog recently. Technology has changed the way we live, what we live for and even how long we live. On a daily basis, technology has accelerated everything in our lives. In our fast-paced lives, a brief “Where are you from?” has replaced the genealogy chants. Now, I love technology—I jumped on the original iPhone when it debuted in 2007—but technology’s push toward a faster, quicker, connected lifestyle has helped do away with something I am learning more and more is quite important: ritual.
Ritual makes us slow down, take notice and breathe.
Last week, amid the sounds of water trickling through bamboo rafters and the cool touch of polished countertops made of beach glass, I joined the pampered people at the 3,000-square-foot Kapalua Spa, a ritual in which I strongly believe.
I signed up for their signature ‘Awa & Cacao Lomi Wrap, a full 80 minutes of me time, and it started with Hawaiian protocol—ritual.
Melia offered me a coconut cup half-filled with a milky, watery substance. “It tastes earthy,” she said. I drank it down, and my lips began to tingle immediately. She instructed me to present a cup to her. I did. She drank. We clapped three times.
The next day, I would drive to the Road to Hana, turning left just before the town of Hana to walk Kahanu Garden, where I would learn that ‘awa is an important ceremonial drink in Hawaii, made from the root of a heart-shaped leafy shrub from the pepper family. The sign would tell me that ‘awa has “a gentle numbing effect on the mouth and calms the nerves and spirits. While relaxing the body, it is said to focus the mind’s thoughts.”
The perfect way to begin a body treatment.
The air-conditioned and luxuriuous Kapalua Spa located in West Maui doesn’t try to replicate Old Hawaii. It doesn’t borrow an Asian-Zen décor popular with some spas, either. This spa, with its recycled glass tiles in seafoam green and aqua and compostable water glasses, evokes a clean, healthy vibe with a touch of decadence and environmental responsibility. And it gracefully incorporates a few Hawaiian traditions in a way that surprised and pleased me.
Melia started me face-down on the heated treatment table. Using long lomi massage strokes, she kneaded a paste made from cacao into my body, first one side and the other, as the scent of chocolate wafted through the air in a dense blanket of yumminess. She, then, wrapped me in a tight cocoon, layered in cotton, plastic and paper and topped with a heated pad. She could have walked out and left me for good right then, I was as happy as a clam, but she stayed, massaging my head, neck and feet.
This is the memory of my new “happy place.”
The practice of traveling to a place for healing—physical and spiritual—isn’t a new one, and I don’t believe the concept of “pampering” is a 21st century discovery, either. According to Anita Diamant’s novel, The Red Tent, set in Biblical times, women banished to the red tent during their menstrual cycles spent their days rubbing henna on each other’s fingernails. They massaged each other’s bodies. They braided each other’s hair. These are rituals I can get behind. They sound just like today’s definition of a spa to me. A few miles down the road from where I live, at Kamokila Village, a replica Hawaiian hale pe’a stands—a menstrual house.
Melia helped me to the in-room shower, so I could rinse off the cacao paste, and I returned to the table.
This time around, she spritz’ed me with a pikake and applied conditioner to my skin, again using long, lomi strokes over my arms, legs and body, and I discovered my new favorite massage spot—my stomach—and my new favorite massage stroke—shoulder-to-back-to-glute-to-hamstring-to-calf-to-foot.
Melia finished my treatment with another Hawaiian tradition: the inhalation of Hawaiian sea salts infused with aromatherapy to open my respiratory system.
I don’t know how I will ever go back to a standard, 50-minute massage after this.