Culture is something I keep coming back to on this blog because it is something that hits close to home for most of us living on the islands. What we often forget is that entire cultures and civilizations have been wiped out for us to get here. Before the ancient Hawaiians came to the islands of Hawaii there lived an indigenous race of people that were used as workers then killed off to make room for the new culture. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menehune) When the western world realized the existence of the islands and their native people, missionaries were sent to replace local practices and beliefs with new ones. Soon Hawaiians were not allowed to practice their ancient arts like the hula or speak their language in their own land. (http://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/the-struggle-for-hawaiian-sovereignty-introduction)
And with this knowledge, it is so interesting to learn at and about a place like the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) located on Oahu, Hawaii where Latter Day Saints preserve the culture of Polynesia and help students from the local college and beyond. (http://www.polynesia.com/)
Established in 1963, PCC was “…created to share with the world the cultures, diversity and spirit of the nations of Polynesia.” A non-profit, Mormon organization which seeks to preserve native cultures and allow students and faculty to show off their knowledge as well as supporting those who would like to share their native knowledge with others. Seems to contradict what we know of those who spread the western word.
Regardless, I went to PCC through a family member and was able to explore a few of the island exhibits that they offer. We started in Fiji then moved on to New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, and Samoa. Unfortunately we were unable to make it to all the exhibits, but they also have exhibits for Hawaii, Rapa Nui, and the Marquesas.
Fiji is known as the “crossroads of the Pacific” because they are at the corner of Polynesian islands and the Micronesian islands. The exhibit consisted of a show that was put on by dancers and singers with the audience taking part by pounding the derua or bamboo on the ground to the beat. Woven fans are used by the women to dance with and men use a club carved from wood. To the Fijians, hair is sacred so only the chief is allowed to grow his hair out into a large afro.
New Zealand is also called Aotearoa, which means “land of the long white cloud” because the first person who saw the land, thought it was simply one long cloud. The village here was surrounded by a tall fence with watch towers because of the heavy fighting they’ve had through their history. Here we saw games played that were meant to improve and test ones coordination like the throwing of short sticks to each other while catching one thrown to you by another, and a game where you hold up taller sticks and run in a circle and catch them before they fall to the ground.
In Tahiti, we learned how to dance and were taught how to make bread in an imu or an underground oven. We also learned that men and women work together to produce the meals every single day. It was the women’s job to gather the ingredients and the men’s job to cook the bread. Also, to dance, bend your knees and move your hips in a circle.
Tonga is the only nation in Polynesia that has never been colonized. They had an exhibit where they showed off their drumming and taught the audience simple hand claps and movements that we could use during songs. Their people are known for being very friendly.
Samoa is one of the most exciting shows because they do a lot of interesting demonstrations. From the very beginning we were told that young men were to do everything for their families from gathering to cooking because women had the more important job of weaving mats and cloth which is what is used as currency. They showed the audience the many uses that a coconut has and produced fire very quickly in front of us.
The first thing you are taught when you enter any of the different places is their local greeting where it is then repeated until you vaguely remember it.
I have a problem with places like this.
Living in Hawaii, besides knowing about our cultures, we know how the native Hawaiian culture is portrayed to the outside world. We spend three years in primary schools learning about the Hawaiian culture and our whole lives being surrounded by the caricature that is made of it in the tourism industry. I dislike going to PCC in general because I fear that is what it is like.
I know for a fact they are more culturally aware, using things like churches and boats with the permission of the host cultures. People from the native countries participate in the knowledge propagation and have a say in what is being told to the visitors. But then they also do things like only tell us about nice things like the music and the exact same things that are shared about the Hawaiian culture without covering the more important recent aspects like how they were colonized and how the monarchy was overthrown.
So, while I love to learn about cultures, PCC is always somewhat of a question mark for me. I would definitely encourage all who can go to visit to do so and I do enjoy the information given to us, but I’m always interested in finding out what is underneath the surface too.