TODAY   |  May 20, 2013

Keeping Hawaii’s cultural traditions alive

The Hawaiian Islands are full of beauty and steeped with cultural traditions passed down from one generation to the next. TODAY’s Willie Geist reports on how native Hawaiians are working to keep hula dancing, the Hawaiian language, and more alive.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> tourists come for the breath-taking vistas but for the early hawaiians the land is respected with an almost spiritual reverence and nothing shows off that spirit more than the ancient dance of hula.

>> it expresses all that we hear, see, smell, taste, touch and feel. hula is life.

>> reporter: but that tradition has largely been pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of modern day island life . which is why it's more important than ever for the old to teach the young.

>> relying on the help of our ancestors that are no longer here in the physical sense is just a part of everyday life for us.

>> reporter: fish ponds were once designed to supply a steady supply of fish, making sure the tradition conditions today.

>> they saw something 800 years ago and they were innovative enough to create these forms of traditional aqua culture.

>> reporter: farms like this show a new generation how to harvest and pound poi, a purple paste made from the taro root , a staple from the hawaiians to are far healthier than the ones of today.

>> the rate of hawaiians is more than double the rest of the nation. we've seen it shift from the traditional hawaiian diet to the traditional western diet which is full of processed foods .

>> reporter: lost are the skills the ancient hawaiians made in art form. voyaging and navigating by the stars was mostly in the mind of the elders, until now.

>> if you don't learn it, you can't pass it down to anybody.

>> reporter: traditional voyaging classes like this keep history alive and the hawaiian language as well. less than 1% of the population can speak native hawaiian fluently. immersion schools are trying to change that.

>> it's really the rhythm, the sound of our earth, of our ocean and how we as a people connect to these species.

>> reporter: if you know where to look, the past is very present out here in the middle of the pacific, the islands may be surrounded by water, but it's the love of the land that keeps that hawaiian spirit afloat. and