Huki, the new canoe show at the Polynesian Cultural Center, bridges traditional and contemporary elements into the dances, songs, and costumes of six island nations: Hawai‘i, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and Samoa. It also tells the story of the PCC that holds importance to the Laie community. With about seven years of preparation, performers shared their hope to introduce the epic tale of the Pacific to guests, locals, and BYU-Hawaii students through Huki.
“In Hawaiian, Huki means to pull,” according to the PCC website. “From the legend of Maui pulling up the islands, to the history of Laie pulling fishing nets at its world-famous Hukilau, Huki reminds us how the ocean doesn’t divide us, it unites us.”
Delsa Moe, the vice president of Operations at the PCC, shared, “This is also the first time we are telling Laie’s story [and] how the PCC came to be in a PCC show. We are also honoring the community people who were part of the hukilau.
“[The history of hukilau] is something the Laie community is very proud of, and we want to share that with our guests so they know why this place is so special.”
Roger Ewen, production designer at the PCC, shared unlike the former canoe show, Rainbow of Paradise, Huki is not merely about dancing. Instead, it’s about how to coordinate with each culture and combine them into one.
“Through trades, marriages, and wars, island nations shared and adopted different living styles and cultures from each other. Later on, they adopted the ideas from the Western culture. They grabbed the tune and [made] it their own without changing the meanings of the songs. Different churches, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent… their missionaries to these islands, so the people were greatly influenced by Christianity and were united again.”
According to Moe, “The preliminary development of Huki started in 2011, but it was not officially carried out until 2014, when the budget was finally committed to the project.” Before the premiere on Aug. 18, she said they were still working on some key props such as the sound system and costume enhancements.
All the Huki costumes have taken Ewen one year to develop in working with the cultural experts, researching, and drawing. He said, “I’ve also teamed up with the seamstress and theater wardrobe to discuss about the fabrics that go with the designs, and we make sure everything is meticulous.
“[Take] the Hawaiian war chants costumes, for example. Preferably, we’d love to have ti leaves as they represent the culture. However, because there’s an extreme shortage of ti leaves in all the islands, we are using hau skirts as the replacements for now, but we are hoping to use ti leaves eventually.”
Moe continued, “All of the canoes used in the show were made by our own PCC carvers in the Physical Facilities Department. They also created all the hook pendants worn by the performers, along with the special carved drums, the sails, and many other props used in the show. We have a very skilled group of artisans, seamstresses, and technical people who work together to make Huki into another PCC success story.”
The Huki committee team is adopting the cultures, being creative with them, and adding contemporary elements to them without losing their authenticities, said Ewen. “For the last part of the show, performers representing six islands will join together in blue costumes. We chose blue because it’s the color of the ocean that united all island nations, though it’s not traditionally used in any culture.
“When we first presented the idea of using a blue color in our costumes in the University of Hawaii, people’s response was very cold. However, by the end of the lecture I gave, they started to be interested in the idea. They could see what we’re trying to do was to keep the culture alive.”
Justin Ioane, a lead of the canoe guides at the PCC, shared, “We have been practicing [for the show] for two years now. They make changes almost every time we practice. We practiced almost every Saturday last semester and… almost every day during this summer break.”
Ioane, a junior from Samoa, who is double majoring in accounting and marketing, said adapting to many changes and being physically tired are the major challenges for him and the team. “Though we get tired after practice sometimes, we still have to work for the rest of the day.”
Ewen marveled on how it requires a lot of hard work from the departments at the PCC, especially the canoe pushers. “My hat’s off to them because they are really doing a lot of pushing. It’s tough work that they are doing with no rest.”
Besides having been trained on pushing techniques, communication is also one of the main training subjects, explained Ioane. “We have to always pay attention to the cues on what time to enter and be perfectly consistent. The Huki show is all about timing… The whole show can be messed up if one canoe is late.”
When asked what the biggest challenge of operating the new canoe show is, Moe said it will be training performers and learning new procedures. “At the end of summer, some people will be quitting because of classes, missions, moving away, etc., so we have to train their replacements quickly to keep up our manpower.
“Another challenge we face is learning new procedures for a new show. They can be issuing and maintaining the props and costumes, adjusting to a new sound system, and helping all employees understand what the new show is about, so that they can accurately educate the guests.”
With Huki being launched at the PCC, Moe said more jobs will be available to both students and non-students. For students, she said, they will learn about the history of Laie. She hopes it will increase their appreciations and enrich their college experience.