The festival of colors is a Hindi tradition called Holi that originated from the Indian subcontinent. In a celebration of spring, hope, and love, people gather to celebrate, meet others, play, and renew while partaking in all the things that signify celebration – food, music, and family – with a twist: the throwing of powdered colors. A color festival is an artistic, creative, and visual experience and expression where people throw colors at each other and into the air until everyone is thoroughly and vibrantly painted.
The spring festival symbolizes renewal, love, and the inclusion of all, and is celebrated around the world. Now, Maui has its own take on Holi, the Color Festival Hawaii, a celebration of diversity and hope put on by Imua Family Services as a part of their annual event series, the “Festivals of the World.”
On April 13 at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, Imua will host the festival for the second year. “I was looking for an event that would appeal to the masses, that we can draw lots of people to, and bring children and families together,” said Dean Wong, the executive director of Imua Family Services. “I wanted it to be something that everyone could enjoy and wouldn’t be expensive to attend, and that would celebrate people, diversity, and the message that we at Imua Family Services really try to share with the community, which is inclusion.” The event will feature music, food, and cultural demonstrations from taiko drummers and Tahitian dancers.
For those who weren’t there last year, Imua has a website for answers to everything from what the ingredients of the powder are (cornstarch and food dye) to what to wear (white is recommended; it should wash off but, just in case, don’t wear your fanciest clothes) and more.
I caught up with Wong to talk about the festival and Imua Family Services. “The color festival at its very basic heart is a music festival,” Wong told me. “A family-friendly, top-of-the-line music festival. The most important thing is that you find great musicians, great stage shows, and bring some great caliber musicianship to the stage. We really feel like we’ve done that this year with Yum Yum Beast and Anuhea, and of course our headliner, Rayland Baxter who is at the peak of his festival circuit career.
“Baxter and his band, who hail from Tennessee, they’ve got a nice blend of pop and country and funk and soul. And we thought, well this is perfect for an outdoor music festival. It will appeal to lots of genres and tastes, and things of that nature. DJ Boomshot will pull the music together between acts.”
“Music is a celebration of diversity,” Wong added. “It always is. Music is the thing that brings people together, that makes people enjoy life together, that they can celebrate together no matter what their differences are.”
Wong and his team at Imua wanted to include aspects of the color festival for several reasons. “The throwing of color is symbolic of spring and new life, and inclusion, diversity, and accepting people for all of their uniqueness, their colorfulness, and their differences,” Wong said. “Once everyone is covered in color, we kind of all look like the same thing.”
And although Imua works with children with disabilities, Wong wants everyone in the community to feel welcome and come celebrate at the event with color, music, and food. “We work with children with disabilities, special needs, and developmental delays, and it’s one thing to work with those children and help them to reach their full potential. But another part of our obligation in this community is to make sure that there is a community to support them where they land as they grow up, and that they feel included and a part of everything – that they can go to prom with other high school students, that they can go to camp with other kids, that they can be on swim teams and go surfing and all of these things. That doesn’t happen by only educating people with disabilities. You also have to communicate the message of diversity and inclusion to the community that is without disability.”
Wong’s vision is to see the event grow in scope and nature to equal other destination festivals. Color festivals happen all over the world, from Paris to New Zealand. “There’s no reason why Hawai‘i shouldn’t be a destination for music festivals like Coachella, like Burning Man, like all of these famous festivals that happen around the world. And so I really wanted to bring that kind of attention and youthful, trending, music festival environment to Maui,” he said. “Our goal is that this will grow into a multi-day festival event with multiple stages, bringing in bigger acts and going into the nighttime.”
Unique to Maui’s own color festival, of course, is that it goes to support Imua Family Services, Maui’s largest early childhood provider in the state of Hawai‘i. It began serving the children of Maui in 1947, primarily helping children stricken with polio, before Hawai‘i was even a state.
“The word Imua means ‘to move forward’ in Hawaiian,” Wong told me. “Basically, that’s what we do for the children in this community. We work with children who are born with disabilities, with developmental delays, with various special needs. So they might have a physical disability or a developmental disability like autism, or they just have a speech delay or a physical delay in their motor skills or cognitive skills.”
To support these children, Imua has a variety of programs and services, from the annual Camp Imua, a summer camp, to an inclusion preschool, autism services, and newborn hearing screening. Another well-known event in the community is Paddle Imua, a benefit paddle race coming up in May.
Beyond just helping the child, Imua also focuses on supporting the child’s family. “Our goal is to support the family in understanding what their child’s needs are, and then through therapeutic services, which we provide. Some children are with us for a few months, some children are with us for a few years, and other children are with us for many years. The kinds of services that they get from us are things like speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, special instruction, and general education. Family training is a huge part of what we do, because if you have a child who was born with Down syndrome or a special need, there’s no training manual that comes with that. You get a diagnosis, you go home with your child, and you figure out the next steps. And so we help families figure out what that looks like, what kind of medical attention that looks like, what kind of developmental services that looks like, and all the other resources that the family might need.”
I asked Wong what he wishes Maui residents to know about Imua. “It’s important to know that 90 percent of a child’s brain development happens before they’re six years old, so the most critical years of childhood intervention or development has to happen before then, which is why our organization is so focused on early childhood.”
With that in mind, Wong and his Imua team tried to make the event as family-friendly and affordable as possible with the hope that families would attend. “It’s out in the open, it’s in the grass. Children can run around and throw color at each other and have a great time.”
Cover image courtesy Imua Family Services
Cover design by Darris Hurst
Image 1 by Shervin Lainez
Image 2 courtesy Anuhea