In Their Own Words: Silla Kaina
Cultural Ambassador Montage Kapalua Bay
“My dad had the opportunity of working in the pineapple fields in Kapalua when he was 14 years old. And those days, we had camps, so we had the Filipino camp, the Japanese camp, the Hawaiian camp. In the plantation, as he was working for this manager, he [moved] into one of those houses. We all grew up there, all six of us, and there were five girls and one boy, and we learned so much.
[Before the hotel] this was just all coconut groves – a beautiful grass lawn area. It was for the plantation workers to come and enjoy. Our village, or the camp, was a distance away. It was where the Honolua Store is today. We camped out [on weekends], even though we were just about a mile up the road.
We thought Kapalua was our bay because no one was here, and there were times when it was only us every day. Our parents couldn’t keep us out of the ocean. We’d be swimming, swimming, swimming. And if not swimming, we’d be learning how to fish. I grew up in this area, and I just planted myself. It’s hard to get into hotel management as a local person or kanaka and to work yourself up.
I started as a PBX, and from PBX went to the front desk. I remember when the Kapalua Bay Hotel was here and there was no Hawaiian culture or Hawaiian things to do. And there were a lot of guests who were looking for that. They really were so fond of hula and wanting to do lei making. So one day I said, you know what, I’ll be coming to work two days from now. We’ll meet here in the lobby at 2 o’clock. There’s a nice little coffee table. You can sit right here. If you don’t mind, we’re not gonna do the go-outside-and-pick-up-the-flowers, ’cause I’m going be working.
So I picked up flowers from our yard, just for two or three leis, and the [guests] could make their leis. That’s the first time of starting something so special. Today, when I think about those moments, it grew into more opportunities to meet people. To tell you the truth, I really have come to enjoy [meeting guests] and being grateful that they’re here with us. I am also so grateful that we have local or kanaka, Hawaiian people, in hotel management to make a difference.
Some [guests] come fo’ just, “Oh, I wanna go look for the turtles,” or “I wanna go look for the rainbows,” or “How come we not having the sun?” And what’s so difficult is how can you change a mindset? If my grandma was here, and, you know, sometimes I feel the same way, like wanting to pull them in the ear and say, “Wake up! Enjoy the beauty and the nature of it ’cause you can see so many things that this [place] can teach you.”
I guess, everybody’s going to be different, and the challenges are going to be great. It really depends on [the guests]. Some of them come over here to find their place. Most of them come here to discover who they are. What’s important is that [Hawaiian cultural ambassadors] have that opportunity of carrying our heritage. I don’t look at the word culture too much, but heritage is what’s important. I like the word heritage.
Heritage comes from your blood, because it comes from who you are. It comes from this place. The place makes us. And so when you are connected with the place, or live in a place with an environment like this, it’s really beautiful and so meaningful. This place is where the essence of the word mana [life force] is so strong. I teach what is us. I teach what belongs here and to keep what belongs here alive. Your ’ano is your confidence, your inner perspective. All we gotta do is find that, and know that we have it, and [become] a better person.
The goal is to become righteous – to do it and embody it. I wanna share it with everybody that come and sit down ova’ here and let them know: Just be yourself. And know that you are important.”