Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Hawaii’s top visitor attraction leads the way in cultural preservation

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

The Polynesian Cultural Centre or PCC is one of Hawaii’s top visitor attractions and coming up in October, it will celebrate it’s 60th anniversary.

Since it opened the PCC has entertained more than 34 million visitors, while preserving and portraying the culture, arts and crafts of Polynesia.

“Here we are always number one paid visitor attractions,” says Delsa Atoa Moe, Vice President of Cultural Presentations.

“We have about 1200 employees, 70% of them are students attending university at BYU (Brigham Young University), Hawai’i. 

“They’re ready to be hired in a variety of different jobs, not just cultural and one thing that was interesting about the cultural centre is we were established to support education.” 

The Village represented at the centre are Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa and of course Hawai’i.

Built in 1963 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), many of the villages here were constructed by people from the different island communities.

“From the very beginning we actually had cultural experts in helping to set everything up so that we could portray the best that we could,” says Terry Naauao Panee the manager of the PCC Hawaiian Village.

“So, the Tongans came up to build the Tongan village. The Māori’s came up to build the Māori village and do all the carvings the way it should be with the right protocols.  

“They brought up their knowledge with them, you know, that were passed on throughout the years in the islands.” 

The centre allowed students studying at BYU to earn money as well as help to preserve authentic Pacific Islands cultures.

“They go to school there for their academic education. They work here to gain practical knowledge, experience working with tourists and you know, real life situations where they can apply what they learned from the classroom,” Delsa says. 

“By the time they finish their tertiary education, they’ve got a degree, they’ve got work experience and they graduate debt free.” 

Naauao has worked in the centre for over 40 years, he has managed the Hawaiian Village for the last ten.  He says it’s important to have authenticity because many of the students have not experienced their own culture.

“We have a lot of Hawaiians who were born and raised away from Hawaii, who come back for school, get an opportunity to learn about the culture that they didn’t necessarily get while they were raised in the U.S,” he says.

“We have our main show, which is a hula presentation and interesting enough, it’s called ‘The Sound of Hula’. Our whole show is about dancing, using the hands and telling stories as well as using implements to enhance the experience.” 

The centre educates students not only in dance but also in material culture with hands on work on a canoe located at the Hawaiian village.

“This is a canoe called ‘Iosefa’. It is a 57 foot all wooden, double hulled voyaging canoe. It was built in 2001 by the university’s Hawaiian Studies Programme.

“This is a canoe that teaches the students how to navigate it, how to understand voyaging for us here in the islands,” Naauao says.

Like the vaka, Delsa and Naauao have seen the cultural centre evolve over the years to what it is today.

“We started small and over the years we grew and grew and we focused on what we knew best and that was just to be ourselves,” Delsa says.

“We like to think that we’re a good representation of the cultures that we portray here at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.” 

Naauao agrees, “We hope to put forth our best cultural face to everybody correctly and so we tap into the knowledge of those who came before us and those experts, that we have still here today to be able to do that and share that with everybody.”



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