Polynesian Cultural Center Launches New “Huki” Canoe Celebration

Contributed By Mike Foley, Church News contributor

  • 31 July 2018

In the new canoe celebration at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Huki: One ‘Ohana Sharing Aloha, all the people of the islands come together. Huki has replaced Rainbows of Paradise, which ran for 18 years.  Photo by Mike Foley.

Article Highlights

  • It has taken more than three years to prepare the show.
  • The story line ranges from the demigod Maui fishing for the islands to the start of the PCC.
  • The waters do not divide the islands, they unite them.

“The overall takeaway from our new canoe celebration is that we are all a member of a worldwide family.” —Delsa Atoa Moe, PCC vice president of cultural presentations 

LAIE, HAWAII

After more than 5,000 performances by several thousand employees, the Polynesian Cultural Center replaced its popular Rainbows of Paradise canoe show with a soft launch of Huki: One ‘Ohana Sharing Aloha. “‘Ohana” means “family” in Hawaiian.

Approximately 10 million visitors have enjoyed Rainbows over the past 18 years. Typical of the close bonds that exist among the PCC “family” of employees, even some alumni returned on July 11 with special permission to dance in that show’s final performance, while others joined the audience. The center also staged free morning previews of Huki on July 10 and 18 for the community.

“Huki is a very unique canoe celebration,” said Delsa Atoa Moe, PCC vice president of cultural presentations. “It’s very different from anything PCC has done in the past. We’re not focusing on the individual cultures as much as we are on the ocean and how it pulls us all together. We also use this theme to tell the story of Laie and how the Polynesians came together in this place.”

PCC canoe show manager Jon Raymond Mariteragi said Huki starts with dramatizations of the legendary demigod Maui harnessing the sun and dragging up the islands with his magical fishhook. Though far apart, the people on the Polynesian islands then use the ocean as a highway to interact with each other, as portrayed in a canoe-borne cultural exchange, marriage, and warfare among the islanders.

Huki’s story line continues: With western contact, the Polynesians adapt music and instruments, then add their own rhythms, words, and motions to both traditional and contemporary songs. Western-influenced but island-style choral music becomes an important part of Christian worship. Then to raise funds to rebuild their chapel in the 1940s, Polynesian Latter-day Saints living in Laie combine island entertainment and a luau with a traditional hukilau fishing event, where the guests help pull in the nets. The Laie hukilau immediately becomes popular; the aloha spirit and talent of the local islanders, combined with the hukilau song and Uncle Hamana Kalili’s famous shaka sign, help spread its fame around the world.

Steve Laulu introduces the Polynesian Cultural Center’s new Huki canoe celebration. Photo by Mike Foley.

The legendary Earth Mother and the demigod Maui, shown with his magical fish hook, are part of the story line in the new canoe celebration, Huki. Photo by Mike Foley.

Hollywood helps too: one segment of Huki portrays how popular singer Elvis Presley films part of his 1965 movie, Paradise Hawaiian Style, at the center and even adapts the PCC’s signature song, “Bula Laie,” into his English version, “Drums of the Islands.”

When Brigham Young University–Hawaii (known as Church College of Hawaii from 1955 to 1974) starts up, more Polynesians and others come to Laie, and the Church soon uses the Laie hukilau concept to found the Polynesian Cultural Center as a means to help the students pay for their education.

The people celebrate after the legendary demigod Maui pulls up the islands and their connection to the ocean in the new canoe celebration. Photo by Mike Foley.

As the canoes come together for the finale of Huki, the emcee says, “Now you know my story … and why the Polynesians have gathered again at the PCC in beautiful Laie, for the waters around us do not divide us. They unite us into one ‘ohana sharing aloha.”

“The overall takeaway from our new canoe celebration is that we are all a member of a worldwide family,” Moe said.

Samoans demonstrate how even country-western music has become a part of their culture in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s new canoe celebration, Huki. Photo by Mike Foley.

She pointed out that a special creative committee has been working on Huki for more than three years. Members of the committee include Elder David T. Warner, an Area Seventy, and Ross Boothe as consultants. “They were also both consultants for us on our evening show, Hā: Breath of Life, and they’re back on this project.”

PCC performance specialists are Steve Laulu, Samoa; Rāhira Makekau, Aotearoa; Kalivati Volavola, Fiji; Pōmaika’i Krueger, Hawaii; ‘Alamoti Taumoepeau, Tonga; and Jon Raymond Mariteragi, Tahiti.

“Dallin Muti composed four original songs for Huki, and he’s also responsible for the entire soundtrack; Roger Ewens, Cathy Teriipaia, and Fatai Feinga oversaw all of our costuming and wardrobe, and Lance Aina was responsible for canoe choreography,” Moe continued.

New Zealand Maori share a popular “big-band” 1940s hit—for which they’ve created Maori lyrics and motions—in the new canoe celebration, Huki. Photo by Mike Foley.

Muti, who started at the center in 1986, recalled the new theme song he wrote came to him as David Warner was discussing the concept of Huki. “I grabbed a guitar, and the words to the song just came out. It just felt right,” he said. “To me, this is a special place, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work here,” he added.

Moe also said PCC carvers created the custom-built canoes used in Huki, including a miniature version of the Fijian camakau outrigger canoe and a Maori-style double-outrigger. “They also carved the magnificent wooden drums and many other custom-made props and accessories worn by the performers.”

In addition to these people, Mariteragi said he strongly feels that the new canoe celebration is much more than a theater department production. “Every division in the center has been heavily involved. We’ve all pulled together to help launch Huki.”

Western influence, a Polynesian affinity for music, and Christian faith combine in this church-choir segment of Huki. Photo by Mike Foley.

For example, “blue-shirt” physical facilities workers and labor missionaries have extensively expanded the seating capacity around the lagoon. The tech crew installed an all-new surround-sound system, and wardrobe ladies and labor missionaries created hundreds of new costumes.

Mariteragi also expressed gratitude for the previous Rainbows canoe pageant. “There’s always going to be a time at the center when something that’s been with us for a while has had a nice run, and then something new comes in. That’s always been part of our legacy. That’s what makes the center great. Because of the things that have been passed down, we’re always grateful for those who came before.”

“I honor all the individuals who poured their heart and soul into the making of Rainbows, and all our alumni and current employees who kept it going over the years. This is part of the spirit that really makes the Polynesian Cultural Center unique. We have a history of honoring those who have come before and being grateful for the legacy we have.”

“I also love the new Huki, because while we’ve always had recurring themes, this is one of the first times we’re actually telling the story of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Huki portrays actual people and events, and we’re putting that on display,” Mariteragi said.

“There’s both a very creative, contemporary side of the show and a historical story of our heritage. As Delsa [Moe] reminded us at one hard point in the planning stage, from the times of the legendary Maui our people have been resilient.”

“Huki also reflects the prophecies of President David O. McKay, who founded the university and the center. We proceeded with our plans in faith,” Mariteragi added. “We worked hard and followed Heavenly Father’s promptings, and I really feel that’s guided our committee, our cast, and everyone involved in this production.”

“We are excited to share a brand-new canoe celebration with our guests,” said Alfred Grace, president and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center, in separate remarks. “Our team has been working tirelessly to ensure that Huki’s story authentically captures the unique history and folklore of Polynesia and that our facilities are renovated and reinvigorated to ensure that the experience is elevated for all our guests.”

Polynesian Cultural Center performers reenact laying the hukilau nets during the PCC’s new canoe celebration, Huki: One ‘Ohana Sharing Aloha. Photo courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center.