Hawaiian culture is rooted in storytelling. Documentarian Chelsie Machado’s unique take on sustainable island living—a voice grounded in a deep understanding of aloha and honoring traditions of the past—is pushing modern, local culture and community forward. When this Maui-native returned home to the Valley Isle after living on the Mainland for several years, she noticed that Maui and its laid back vibe had changed a great deal in a short time. Now she’s capturing the stories of Northwest Maui to help preserve and protect the history and culture of this rugged yet fragile region through a modern lens. We caught up with Chelsie to talk about honoring the past to shape the future.
You’re a documentarian, a modern Hawai‘i storyteller. What does that entail?
I share the stories of modern Hawaiians who preserve and protect our resources, culture, and identity in the face of modern day challenges. Fortunately, today we have access to technologies and impactful forms of storytelling such as video. When people see and hear the details of these stories, they’re able to understand, feel, and connect to the important messages many Hawaiians have to share. Through video, I hope to elevate the voices of Hawaiians who bring attention to current realities, to inform and inspire a broader audience.
You were born and raised on Maui, but moved to Los Angeles, California for a bit, and now you’re back. How has being away from Maui changed your perspective on island culture?
I always knew Maui was special, but didn’t appreciate or understand the depth of our culture until I experienced living somewhere completely different. After noticing extreme change on Maui since I left, I immediately knew I had to move back home. As I began to reroot and reconnect with my home through relationships old and new, my eyes were opened to modern challenges we currently face and the urgency to protect and preserve Maui. It was then, I decided to use my skills to help expand their efforts.
What specific changes have you noticed about Maui culture?
Most of my generation have moved away because they don’t see opportunities here in Hawaiʻi. I want the next generation to understand the importance of staying or returning home to take care of our land and its people, not to desert our culture. The essence of who we are and what makes this island special will no longer exist without cultural representation. Now we’re at a point where we can see the long-term effects from things that happened a hundred years ago. As I learn from Hawaiians who see today as a turning point, I realize there’s so much opportunity for Hawaiians to redirect and reconnect our local communities to culture.
How does storytelling fit in?
Our history and culture, full of ancient knowledge, survived off oral storytelling and the continuation of traditional practices. We tell these stories, not only to keep our culture alive, but also as a resource to make better decisions for the future. These aren’t just mythological stories, our ancestors were experts who were so connected to these places. We should listen to, learn from, and respect these stories because the knowledge and meaning within are timeless and useful.
Can you give us an example of the history and culture you’re preserving through your work?
There’s always something to learn, whether it’s about our history, resources, or people. Areas around these islands are not just spaces. They bare years of ancestral depth and connection. Hawaiians were not just inhabitants; they lived in parallel with their resources, caring for it the same way they cared for their families. There are amazing people today who value this way of life and make wonderful efforts to sustain our cultural treasures. Our resources and culture depend on these people to keep it the way it is. I want to bring these stories to the forefront, along with the challenges and triumphs that come with it.
How has capturing the stories of these Maui locals affected you?
The passions of my people inspire me everyday! It’s deepened my relationships with my island and its people. Through each story, I’ve realized we’re all the same people, with the same history, facing the same challenges, with the same missions and motivations: to preserve and protect who we are and where we come from.
Watch how Chelsie does her part to preserve Maui's beautiful landscape.