July 08, 2012

The best really creepy place in the world

Recommended by all the tour books, it would be parental malpractice when on Oahu to not take your family to the Polynesian Cultural Center.  On the verge of its 50th anniversary, it is one of Hawaii's most-visited tourist attractions.  We got to walk through the 42-acre compound, see demonstrations of Tongan drumming, Tahitian hula, and afterward a big show with singing, drumming, dancing, and more torches than you could shake a polulu at.

It's an entertaining experience, and the Center has done some good - it has a sterling record of helping to educate the public about Polynesian culture, and has helped thousands of students, many of them Pacific Islanders, graduate from Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

Yeah, about that.  It's run by the LDS Church.

When I got back to the Bay Area I called up a Hawaiian friend who is involved in various cultural projects.  "They put on a good show," he said, "I've heard good things.  But...in the end...they're missionaries, you know?"

And, he pointed out, they're not exactly preserving everything.  Before the intrusion of the explorers, plantation owners, and their assorted religious hangers-on, some types of traditional (kahiko) hula fulfilled important religious functions.  This aspect was serious business - a single mistake in those performances risked the anger of the gods.  I'm not sure the LDS folk are preserving those.

There's also the problem that history is getting longer.  In the 1960s a new kind of seated hula performance developed, primarily in the Honolulu night clubs.  Is that Polynesian?  Should we try to preserve it?  There are no easy answers.

The LDS Church stepped up and made a commitment at a critical time.  In doing so they helped preserve a ton of Polynesian cultural knowledge, and they deserve recognition for that.  But don't expect to see an authentic kahiko hula performance at the PCC any time soon:  back in the day, they did it topless.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

My parents took me there when I was 8, and I visited it again maybe five years ago. I don't care how authentic it is, I love it. Those Mormon kids do a really good job.

July 9, 2012 at 7:12 AM  

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