Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Polynesian Cultural Center

A few months back when my wife and I went to Hawaii, we knew that we wanted to go visit The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. Since we're "museum people", and having read plenty of reviews, we knew we needed to spend pretty much the whole day there. Nevertheless, with a limited time in Hawaii, we visited the LDS temple then took a drive for lunch, then finally made it there in early afternoon.

We walked in and eventually found the "river show", which we were late for. Basically, there's this man-made river that flows through the middle of the center, where they had large, rectangular, flat-topped platforms floating around. Each platform had about 6 dancers and one other man who pushed the platform around the "river." Each platform's dancers were dancing in a style typical of the island that they represented. For example, on one raft the dancers were performing a Hawaiian dance, dressed in blue to honor the "Sky Father." The Fiji raft was much more muted with the women peacefully kneeling and waving their arms around. The Tahitian raft had the men doing some funky knee knocking thing while the women did some amazing hip-shaking action, as seen here:

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We only saw maybe half of it, as we came late, then got chased away by torrential rains. We brought an umbrella with us to Hawaii, but had forgotten it back in our room. Really wanting to see the show, though, we eventually coughed up $6 for some cheap plastic rain covers so we could try to stay dry. By that time, we were far too wet and the show was nearly over. Next time, we'll be ready!!

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After the show, people scattered in all directions. We made our way towards the Samoan area where a guy showed us his palm tree climbing skills.

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We also had the chance to watch a Samoan fellow, who we later learned was the fire dancer in the evening show (later on that in a minute), start a fire without modern implements. Apparently the secret is to use dry wood, and rub two sticks of the same kind of wood together with a lot of pressure and speed. The heat eventually builds up and can catch other material on fire, such as hair from a coconut husk. After watching him, I think I'm an expert. It was amazing. He also showed us how to open a coconut using just a sharp stick, and that was quite impressive, too. The man's name is Te'o Tafiti and he is quite entertaining. Later that night, I got the following picture of my wife with him.

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She's terribly embarrassed, but I just had to post it!

After that, we wandered around the center. They had different "villages" where they had replicas of the type of dwelling-places in which Polynesians from the various represented islands would live. Clearly each one was just a snapshot in time, but it was still very interesting to us. We spent a lot of time reading about the different islands and a little about how people used to live on them. We had a great time listening to the Tongans beat the tar out of their drums, playing games like spear tossing and a neat ball-tossing game; and my wife even danced with the Tahitians. I promised her I wouldn't post the video, but I feel safe posting a fuzzy picture.

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Later that night we went to a "luau" and it was great. It was this very large amphitheater-like place with tables everywhere that served thousands of people. A large buffet, the food was good, but not over-whelmingly so. Nevertheless, they did have roast pig (cooked in the ground):

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No good luau would be complete without that. We were also graced by the presence of the "Royal Court", and it seems that no one can eat until they appear (check out the guy with the hat ...).

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After the meal, they invited people who were there for their honeymoon or anniversary (hey, that's us!) to go up and dance on the stage. We did so (me doing so badly), and that was silly and fun. Somebody from our table took this picture:

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Once the meal was over, we went over to their big show for the evening, called the "Horizons" show. There we saw a lot more dancing on this incredible stage that rose several stories from the ground floor.

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People wandered around with torches and we were again able to watch the different dancing styles from the different islands. We also were pleased to see the Tongans beating the tar out of their drums again, and that was very impressive.

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We didn't get a very good picture of it, but the woman in this next picture was jaw-droppingly astonishing at shaking her hips with that red thing she was wearing. Let me say it clearly: WOW.

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There were some silly numbers they did, too. At one time, they had some fellows wearing grass skirts who were flopping down on their back sides on top of fiery strips. Apparently, it was to demonstrate an old game of "bravery", which was probably done historically when the men were drunk and stupid. In the demonstration, it was actually quite funny and played to be so.

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The highlight of the evening, however, was Te'o Tafiti, who showed us how Samoans used to dance with fire sticks. The video speaks for itself.

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It was a very memorable day. We shared the sorrow of most who realize what a shame it is that these cultures are, for the most part, gone, and reduced to what little can be retained in that place. There was a lot of culture and art that has been lost (though we can do without their brutal or warlike ways). In hindsight, we wish we would have had more time to really learn more about all the islands. Next time we go, we will definitely spend the entire day there. Oh, and we will bring our umbrellas with us. It was definitely worth it.

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