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A day at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Honolulu, Hawaii

I have decided to use Google over Flickr. NOTE: In the interest of time I have not altered these in any way. This is a mixture of cellphone photos and DSLR shots. At some later date the photos will be properly color adjusted, cropped, rotated, etc. If you’d like the final versions just ask. In the meantime, photos and videos can be found HERE.

My day started early in the morning with a shuttle that picked up the tour group and took us to the Polynesian Cultural Center, making several very quick sightseeing stops along the way so that we could take photos of the beautiful Hawaii landscape. The first stops were Koko Crater and Haunama bay, which I now know well. Then we continued on to the north of the island … I believe it is north? Hawaiians do not use 'NSEW' to orient, preferring instead mauka (mountain side), makai (ocean side), diamond head and ewa. Anyway, I do not remember the exact names of the places we stopped along the way, but the views were incredible. We learned a great deal about Hawaiian history and language from the tour guide and passed by ancient burial sites marked by palm trees as well as pineapple, macadamia nut and coffee plantations. We made a stop at the Dole plantation in Wahiawa, and it was hard not to buy all the macadamia, coffee, and especially pineapple products offered. They were not cheap. Eventually I settled on pineapple ice cream with pineapple juice inside a pineapple container (see photos). Worth it!

Then we reached the cultural center. In my rush to make the early morning shuttle I made two errors today. The first is I did not charge my camera battery and did not bring my spare, so my DSLR died just upon arrival. The second, I brought a portable battery supply and forgot my phone charging cord (more on that later). And yet, the rest of the day could not have been better. I just can’t share it with you as fully as I had intended.

First of all, the Polynesian Cultural Center is owned by Brigham Young University, and all our tour guides were students of the school whose tuition and board is paid by us, the tourists who visit the center. The center itself is an immersive experience introducing visitors to island cultures within Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. These are in no particular order Hawaii, Tsonga, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and Aoetearoa (Maori). Each of these groups has small, simulated village areas where we are introduced to the songs, dances and traditions of the peoples.

We started by taking a boat tour around the entire center, propelled by one of the student guides using a stick, much like a gondolier. Next, each island group put on their own show on a boat, displaying the fashions, music and dance of the culture (see my videos). From then on, it was simulated island hopping, starting with Fiji, where we were given bamboo sticks to drum on the floor and sing according to island traditions. It was at this point that my cellphone too ran out of power, and so the rest of the experience does not come with any visual aids.

We went to the tent of the Aoetearoa where they too performed songs and dances. These cultures are all quite similar in their use of oral and musical traditions and especially ceremonial dance. We experienced a “light” version of the haka war dance and a display of stick passing and twirling of the poi. Both of these traditions are taught from an early age to improve hand to eye coordination and prowess in battle. I tried my hand in both of them – the stick passing wasn’t too bad, but I cannot poi twirl for my life. The performers made it look easy, but it is definitely not! I also tried another game played by children where a group stands in a circle holding a stick and moves in either direction around the circle, leaving the stick standing and catching that of their neighbor before it falls to the ground. So yes, I fooled around quite a bit!

The highlight of the tours was perhaps the Samoa area. They are supposedly the happiest people on earth! Their performance included singing and dancing, as well as techniques for coconut breaking, bamboo weaving, starting a fire with sticks, fire twirling, and climbing up a palm tree. It was incredible to watch. As with all the villages, the performers made many jokes and flaunted their impressive skills.

And then came the luau. A full course buffet dinner, complete with a pig roasted in a pit celebrating everyone who came to the center. Of course I was leied on the way in. More tribal dances were performed, including the Hawaiian hula dance and fire dancing. People celebrating anniversaries, honeymoons and birthdays were encouraged to briefly come on stage and join the dancers. The entire day was magical, but the evening was the most magical of all.

Last was the show, titled Hā – the breath of life. The entire show was a tribute to the Polynesian concept of the Hā. This is the ha in Aloha, the breath of life present in the birth of a newborn, the love of family, the strength needed to defend one’s tribe. I cannot say I fully understand what it means, but I think maybe I feel it? Perhaps that is the point. The show was beautiful, with dazzling displays of song, dance, hip motions, and demonstrations of power over fire. Oh, the fire dances! They were like nothing we had seen previously. Here I truly felt like I had come not for a basic cultural demonstration, but for a serious, professional show. Well, it was obviously both. The point is that I had mentioned all the singing, dancing, and other acrobatic before, but this was a step above. At times all I could do was stare and wait to see what would happen. Because I honestly had no idea what to expect next.

In summary, it has been an amazing day. I am grateful to Mary for recommending I come here when I told her I wanted a luau. What I received is so much more. I have a newfound appreciation and love for the peoples and culture of the Pacific islands. It was truly a life changing experience.

More tomorrow,


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