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The History and Development of Polynesian Cultural Center

Posted in: Culture & History

While October 12, 1963 marks the official opening date of the Polynesian Cultural Center, its roots go back to the mid-1800s.

 Missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints (popularly called Mormons) arrived in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i) in 1850. By 1865, the LDS Church had purchased a 6,000-acre plantation that encompasses all of Laie, home to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The LDS Temple in Laie — started in 1915 and dedicated on Thanksgiving Day 1919 — attracted more islanders from throughout the South Pacific. 

 In 1921, Matthew Cowley was finishing his first round of missionary service in New Zealand. There, he developed a deep love for the Maori people and other Polynesians. In a speech Cowley delivered in Honolulu, he said he hoped “…to see the day when my Maori people down there in New Zealand will have a little village there at Laie with a beautiful carved house…the Tongans will have a village too, and the Tahitians and Samoans and all those islanders of the sea.” 

The potential of such a concept was well established in the late 1940s when the Church members in Laie started a hukilau — a fishing festival with a luau feast and Polynesian entertainment — as a fund-raising event. From the beginning, it proved immensely popular and provided the inspiration for the well-known Hukilau Song that begins: “Oh we’re going to a hukilau…where the laulau is the kaukau at the big luau.” Busloads of visitors drove to Laie throughout the 1950’s; and by the end of that decade, Polynesian students at Church College of Hawai’i had started up Polynesian Panorama — a production of authentic South Pacific island songs and dances. They eventually played to standing-room-only crowds in Waikiki.

The popularity of the hukilau led to the development of the Polynesian Cultural Center, opened in 1963 and now one of the most popular visitor attractions in all of Hawaii.

The Polynesian Cultural Center has been opening in stages for the safety of its employees and guests. To get the latest on PCC’s re-opening schedules and hours visit their website at Polynesia.com.

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