The roots of the Polynesian Cultural Center can be traced to the late 1940s when members of The Church of Latter Day Saints started a hukilau—a fishing festival with a lu‘au feast and Polynesian entertainment—as a fundraising event.
From the beginning, it proved immensely popular, and eventually led to the opening of the Polynesian Cultural Center in October 1963.
The original 39 structures on 12 acres have expanded many times over the years to become a world-renowned, special place of enchantment, entertainment and education.
“We have never stopped expanding or improving our programs since we opened 56 years ago,” says Delsa Moe, Vice President of Cultural Presentation. “We invite continuous feedback from our guests and use it to improve the experience.”
We ask Moe about some of PCC’s recent program changes. “We just opened a lū‘au called ‘Onipa‘a (Steadfast), a tribute to Queen Lili‘uokalani’s life. Lili‘uokalani was the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s last reigning monarch, and a hero to the Hawaiian people. All of the music was composed by her, and it is the only 100% Hawaiian lū‘au on the island.”
The lū‘au culminates with the evening show, “Hā! Breath of Life,” which features all Polynesian cultures. The show, while 10 years old, continues to evolve to this day. “We’ve made the Hawaiian storyline more clear over the years,” says Moe. “We recently updated the Fijian section to include their values of ‘Forgiveness,’ which we think is particularly important in the world today. The feedback has been unbelievable. It has really struck a chord with our guests.”
In the summer of 2018, a canoe show called, “Huki” (to pull) was added every day at 2:20 p.m. on the lagoon. “The theme of the Huki Show is that the ocean does not divide us,” says Moe. “It unites us. The show is not so much about the individual Polynesian cultures, but how our cultures have blended. Even our western cousins brought things that were adopted here—like ‘ukulele, guitars and fabrics. The show is fun and the music is original.” The canoe rides take place 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily and leaves every 15 minutes.
For anyone who last visited the Polynesian Cultural Center more than four years ago, they’ll find an entirely new attraction, “Hukilau Marketplace,” that serves as the entrance to the center and is free. “Hukilau Marketplace is a tribute to ‘Old Lā‘ie,’” says Moe. “Every restaurant and shop has a tie to Lā‘ie history.”
Since opening the marketplace, 500,000 guests a year visit without entering the center itself. “We recognized that a lot of people were stopping, but didn’t necessarily budget the time to spend the day with us,” says Moe, “so we recently launched a 25-minute canoe ride that holds 30 people and paddles through all six of our villages. It only costs $8 per person and the cost is credited toward the admission fee for those who decide to stay. Either way, it provides a great introduction to Polynesian culture and our center.”
“This represents just a sampling of some of our newer initiatives to exceed guest expectations,” says Moe. “We know that visitors to Hawai‘i have a greater appetite for education, history and authenticity. We have made it our mission to provide a more immersive experience than in the past.”
In addition to the above reasons to visit—or revisit—Polynesian Cultural Center, consider the non-profit’s impact on college students and the community. “The whole purpose of Polynesian Cultural Center is education,” concludes Moe. “Seventy percent of our workforce are BYU Hawai‘i students. We’ve employed 17,000 students to date. They can leave debt-free, with a degree and work experience.”
For more information on Polynesian Cultural Center visit polynesia.com.
[A version of this article appears in print in This Week Oahu]
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