Located on the beautiful Hawaiian island of O’ahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a hidden treasure with deep ties to the Latter-day Saint community. Owned and operated by the Church, it features eight villages, one for each of the Polynesian islands, where native performers showcase traditional arts, crafts, and activities. As the Polynesian Cultural Center celebrates its 53rd birthday today, we wanted to share 10 interesting facts about its history and future!
The roots for the Polynesian Cultural Center came from the hukilau, a fishing festival complete with luau and Polynesian entertainment. The hukilau originated in Laie as a means of fundraising, including raising money to rebuild an LDS chapel.
Elder Matthew Cowley, an LDS missionary, is credited with first imagining the Polynesian Cultural Center on March 11, 1921 at the O’ahu Stake Conference. He said he hoped “… to see the day when my Maori people down there in New Zealand will have a little village there at Laie with a beautiful carved house …the Tongans will have a village too, and the Tahitians and Samoans and all those islanders of the sea.”
President David O. McKay authorized the construction of the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1962, with over 100 labor missionaries assisting in the project. President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency dedicated the completed Polynesian Cultural Center, situated near the Church College in Hawaii (later BYU-Hawaii) and the Laie Hawaii Temple, on October 12, 1963.
In June 1966, Elvis Presley visited for several weeks when came to film a segment of his movie “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” at the Polynesian Cultural Center. You can see the scenes featured at the center in the video below.
After over 50 years of improvement, the Polynesian Cultural Center has successfully become Hawaii’s most-visited paid attraction. Nearly a million visitors come to the Polynesian Cultural Center each year and the center’s theatrical night show, “Ha: Breath of Life,” has received multiple accolades and awards.
In fact, “Ha: Breath of Life” features only native performers, with the majority of the cast coming from BYU-Hawaii. The show takes the audience on a powerful journey of life as you follow Mana, a young boy you watch grow into manhood, as he faces life, love, and loss. The show features native dancing and music from each Pacific isle.
When you visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, you are doing much more than having a great time! You’re supporting the students of BYU-Hawaii; 70% of the jobs at the center are filled by students. Many are on a special scholarship that allows them to work at the center to support their education.
In 2015, a new addition to the Polynesian Cultural Center was dedicated by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Called the Hukilau Marketplace, the addition is vintage in design and features Polynesian restaurants and shops, while providing native music and dancing performances daily. It was named after the original hukilaus that brought busloads of people to Laie in the 1950s.
Even though the Church owns the Polynesian Cultural Center, no religious proselyting takes place. However, a free tram tour is available to the Laie Hawaii temple multiple times throughout the day. One of the specific assignments of the sister missionaries serving in O’ahu is to invite people to take the tram tours, which also include a look at some historic sites along the way.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the islands, serving the local community, and providing world-class entertainment. Because of this mission, they are excited to spread the word and they’re running a special contest right now. They are giving away a family vacation for 4 to have the entire Polynesian Cultural Center experience. Click here to learn more.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.