The fourth of July brought crowds of people to the University of Hawaiʻi exhibits at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Wall to wall people enjoyed the Hawaiian culture and many say their interest in visiting the islands has been renewed for many different reasons.

“I like the down to earth culture and respect they have for the earth and crafts,” said exhibit visitor John Sackett. “It ties in with the earth and everything they create from it.”

“I saw everybody in a circle as a community weaving bracelets and I was attracted to that, I wanted to be part of that. As soon as I asked to be a part of it, they were wanting me to come in,” said exhibit visitor Meaghan Tine. “That was special. I liked that a lot.”

Kurt Dewhurst, campus and community curator of the Smithsonian Institution said the University of Hawaiʻi’s exhibits are not only promoting the university as the leading indigenous serving institution but also serves as an authentic marketing vehicle.

“The Hawaiian program is clearly one of the most popular programs and most interesting because of the depths of the presentations and the great aloha spirit of all the participants,” said Dewhurst.

Dewhurst said he’s certain that Hawaiʻi will see a boost in tourism because of the university’s participation in the Folklife Festival, which sees more than a million visitors annually.

“We know from visitor studies and also follow up research that travel and tourism offices did see a real bump,” Dewhurst said. “People say that the first time they saw that was at the festival and they always wanted to make a trip.”

Visitors are getting hands-on experience— weaving lauhala bracelets, pounding taro and learning the hula and how to play the ukulele.

These moments are priceless for these visitors who are experiencing a piece of Hawaiʻi without getting on a plane.

“I think what’s nice about the festival is you get beyond the kind of surface level of the story that people see through marketing and they actually meet Hawaiian people,” Dewhurst said. “To meet people and share their traditions in such honest and genuine ways is a very powerful, teachable moment,” Dewhurst said.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The University of Hawaiʻi will be among 20 public land-grant universities to be featured in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. from June 27 to July 8, 2012.

The festival celebrates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act, which paved the way for higher education for rural and working class Americans.

The University of Hawaiʻi exhibits will feature traditional Hawaiian health and healing practices, a mini taro patch, non-instrument navigation, medicinal herb and organic farming and much more. Hawaiʻi Community College’s halau Unukupukupu and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Tuahine Troup will also perform.

See more on the University of Hawaiʻi’s Smithsonian experience.

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