All in One

At the PCC, clients get a taste of several South Pacific cultures in one place

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Kapeneta Teo-Tafiti stood before a group of visitors in the Samoan village of the Polynesian Cultural Center, delivering one-liners with the ease of David Letterman.

Scanning the audience, he deadpanned, “You can tell that a coconut is ripe when it is nice and brown like me. Some of you are not ripe yet. And some of you look overripe.”

Teo-Tafiti hails from Savaii, the largest island in Samoa, and in between the banter, he shared fascinating tidbits about his home.

Vigorously rubbing two sticks together to generate heat, he said, “This is how Samoans make fire. You flick your Bics, we flick our sticks.”

When the sticks emitted wisps of smoke, he used them to light dry coconut husk fibers. It took just a few gentle blows to ignite a red-hot flame.

Hawaii’s top paid attraction since 1997, PCC was established in 1963 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help preserve the cultural heritage of Polynesia and to provide jobs and scholarships for students attending the adjacent Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Now 39, Teo-Tafiti started working at PCC in 1988 as a BYU-H student. In 1990, he went back to Samoa to teach art. He returned to BYU-H three years later and graduated with a degree in fine arts in 1995.

Teo-Tafiti became a full-time PCC employee in 1997 as a fireknife dancer in the evening show and a daytime cultural demonstrator in the Samoan village. During our visit, he provided lively narration as a lithe youth scaled a 60-foot coconut tree, and he showed us how to husk and crack open a coconut and squeeze coconut milk from its grated meat. He also taught us two styles of clapping pati (using flat hands to create a high sound) and po (making a lower sound with cupped hands). Like drums, both are used to keep the beat during songs.

Entertaining and educational, our visit with Teo-Tafiti was a great way to start our tour of the seven South Pacific villages that comprise PCC. A plethora of exhibits and interactive activities are offered in every village, and the best way to learn about the cultures of Fiji, Hawaii, Maori New Zealand, the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga is to dive right in.

For the tititorea game in New Zealand, my friend and I kneeled on mats facing each other and picked up a stick in each hand. As the demonstrator sang a catchy folk tune, we provided rhythmic accompaniment with our sticks tapping them on the ground, clicking them together, and tossing them to each other, across and diagonally, in the ultimate test of hand/eye coordination.

In Hawaii, we sampled poi (pounded taro root) and tried ulu maika (bowling), which required us to roll a round lava rock between two stakes at the end of a 10-foot-long sand “alley.” Other village highlights included playing bamboo drums in Fiji, making tapa (bark cloth) in Tonga and learning the hip-shaking otea dance in Tahiti.

The hours flew by as we also enjoyed a pageant featuring dancers on canoes floating in a tranquil lagoon; a superb IMAX film about coral reefs in the South Pacific; and the Alii (Royal) Luau, which deserves all the accolades it has received. No fried chicken or coleslaw here; the menu featured traditional Hawaiian fare such as kalua pig, lomi salmon, poke (marinated raw fish), sweet potatoes, poi and haupia (coconut pudding).

“Horizons, Where the Sea Meets the Sky,” the evening show, was a fast-paced presentation of songs, chants, dances and dramatic special effects, such as an erupting volcano and a 10-foot-tall curtain of colored fountains surrounding the stage. The show was so polished it was hard to believe the majority of the 100-plus cast members were BYU-H students.

Advise your clients to arrive at PCC when it opens and to stay until it closes. There’s that much to see and do, and best of all, they’ll be able to experience it all without boarding a plane or showing a passport.

Polynesian Cultural Center
55-370 Kamehameha Highway
Laie, Hawaii 96762

Commission: Five full-day packages are available, ranging from $40-$200 per adult and $30-$150 per child ages 3-11. Most of the components can be purchased separately. For example, clients can buy tickets only for the show, villages or a meal. Commissions are negotiated on an individual basis.

Hours: PCC is open Monday-Saturday, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. The parking lot, gift shops, snack bar and Circle Island Luncheon Buffet open at 11 a.m. Tours and cultural presentations begin at noon. The villages close at 6 p.m. “Horizons, Where the Sea Meets the Sky” starts at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m. Guests who purchase a ticket that includes general admission may return on any or each of the next three days PCC is open and receive free general admission.