Luau with the Mormons

A luau is a kind of Hawaiian feast started in 1819 after Western influences had convinced the Hawaiian king to end the religious taboos about men and women and royals and commoners eating together. We attended a luau and a musical dance show at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. The Cultural Centre is kind of a theme park. There are areas in the park for six different Polynesian islands with displays, demonstrations, performances, activities and of course gift shops to sell you things from that island. Many tourists spend the whole day at the Cultural Centre but we decided just to go for the luau meal and the Ha Breath of Life Show which had received rave reviews.  We were a little put off to have to pay $8 to park, but the parking attendants were cheery and polite so we coughed up the money and headed into the Cultural Centre. As we entered the hall where about a 1000 people were attending the luau we each received a lei from a lovely young woman. 

We were seated with couples from Denmark, the United States and New Zealand. Visiting with them was the most interesting part of the luau for me. The young couple from New Zealand was from the city of Napier, where we had spent four days in 2009 and so we knew quite a bit about their home town and had plenty to chat about.  The couple from Denmark were our age but hadn’t been able to retire yet. The new age for receiving government pension in Denmark is 67. They were very knowledgeable about the American election, had traveled widely and spoke great English. The American man, who was a little older than us, had been in the military, so had been in Hawaii several times before on leaves from tours of duty, but said on those visits he had been too drunk to really appreciate the islands. We were treated to all kinds of entertainment during the luau meal including these male hula dancers–apparently originally the hula was for men not women.  We knew that the Polynesian Cultural Centre was run by the Morman Church and staffed by young church missionaries and students from the Hawaii campus of Brigham Young University. The students work at the Centre to earn money for their education.  The Morman influence was certainly evident, since no alcohol was served and before we ate we had to join hands with the people at our table while a young man sang Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow in Hawaiian. There are about 70,000 Mormon church members worshipping in 132 congregations in Hawaii.

During the meal we were introduced to actors dressed as the Hawaiian royal family, who were our supposed hosts. This was the king. The meal was okay–served buffet style. The only thing that seemed Hawaiian about it was the pineapple in the salad and the buns made from taro root. Between the luau and the evening show you were invited to take a trolley ride to visit the nearby Mormon Temple and the Brigham Young University campus. Dave and I decided to do this.
Here Sister Fish from Arizona talks to some tourists. She and Sister Rodreguiz from Guatemala were our guides for the tour. They made sure we knew ahead of time that we were going to see a Morman Temple and invited us to exit the trolley if we weren’t comfortable with that. They told us a little bit about the history of the Mormon Church in Hawaii and how the Polynesian Cultural Centre got started. I hadn’t known that the Mormon University –Brigham Young, whose main campus is in Provo Utah,  had a satellite campus outside of Utah, but apparently the one here started as a Mormon College and later was accepted as part of the university. The Polynesian Cultural Centre provides employment for many of the students who otherwise would not be able to pay for their education and helps to fund the university as well, since 70% of costs at Brigham Young are subsidized by the members of the Mormon Church. 

We saw the Mormon Temple on our tour but couldn’t go inside–only Mormons are allowed, but we did get to go into the visitor centre, see a film about Mormons in Hawaii and look at displays which included an impressive stack of the Book of Mormon in all the different languages it has been translated into. There were guides in the visitor centre who spoke other languages to talk to the guests–I heard Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and German. We were asked to fill out a comment card with our name and address and phone number and were asked if we would like a Mormon ( Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) representative to contact us. Since over a million tourists visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre every year, it is a great way for the Mormon Church to evangelize. 

The evening ended with the ninety minute Ha – Breath of Life Show. It cost 3 million dollars to produce and is really very good especially when you consider that most of the performers are college students who are doing this as an extra job. The fire dancers and fire walkers were very impressive. It tells the story of a young Polynesian boy growing up and learning about love, life and what it means to be brave. Both Dave and I thought it was kind of like Lion King. The song at the end espoused the values of family and the faith of ancestors–Mormon ideals presented in an entertaining and engaging way. 

I took this photo of a statue of Jesus inside the Mormon Temple Visitor’s Centre. We were at the centre with our Danish friends from the luau at the centre and they told us this statue was created by a Danish artist and the Mormon Church has copies of it in all their temples around the world. I’m not sure how comfortable I was with the whole mixture of religion and entertainment and the supposed ‘preservation’ or was it ‘exploitation’ of Polynesian culture. It was certainly an interesting evening though. 

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1 Comment

Filed under Food, Hawaii, New Experiences, Travel

One response to “Luau with the Mormons

  1. Chickasaw Lady

    I am a Native American currently in Hawai’i and we all know what Mormons say about us “savage” Indians. Mormons exploit Polynesians here. I will never spend a dime in a Mormon owned facility let alone watch fellow Natives be put on display at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Polynesians shouldn’t allow themselves to be exploited either.

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