Polynesian weaving and special dimensions make new Nativity scene at BYUH first of its kind

Written by: 
Jordan Cortez

The Nativity scene in the Flag Circle is the first reusable, three-dimensional, and life-size Nativity in BYUH history, according to Facilities Management. The materials and design used are completely inspired by Polynesian culture. John Tanner, president of BYUH, said, “We are delighted to add a larger-than-life Nativity to the campus this year. The Nativity places Christ, the Light of the World, amid the campus lights, reminding us of the reason we celebrate Christmas.


“We have placed it in the Flag Circle. I like to think of this as a reminder that Christ is the Lord of all nations. People from every country and clime are invited to follow the star to the Savior and join with the shepherds and wise men in worshipping Him,” Tanner said.


Iafeta Sao, the operations manager of Facilities Management, said the school used to have Nativity scenes long ago, but they were always cheap and disposable. This is the first high-quality manger that is designed to be used, stored and reused for the foreseeable future.


The Nativity scene has coconut leaves weaved around, inside and on top of the manger. The idea originated from Sao, who was born and raised on the island of Samoa. He gathered some students and employees to help weave the entire manger and give it an “island” feel.


“The manger is all Polynesian. We got coconut leaves from around campus and decided to weave those around the manger. Mostly it was all newly weaved coconut leaves. Some older weavings were even donated for us to use.


“Weaving is part of our life back home. It is what we do on a daily basis. Growing up, it is a daily activity. It’s what we do.”


Many of Sao’s coworkers jokingly referred to Sao as “the master weaver” and said he has “still got the talent.”


Tony Mikaele, supervisor of Facilities Management who has lived in both Hawaii and Samoa his whole life, said, “Those are the things you learn being on the island. Back in the day that’s what the people would use for their homes and roofs.”


Mikaele said even though he has become a little rusty at weaving, Sao helped him and several others remember the skill. All of the coconut leaves that were used for the manger were gathered from around BYUH and PCC.


When Mikaele was asked if he had to climb the trees to gather the leaves himself, he chuckled and replied, “We love to climb, but there is a safety concern now, so we used a pole-saw. It’s a lot easier. We stand there and cut it down, and it takes less energy. Climbing takes a lot of energy.”


According to Jaddy Toelupe, the lead maintenance technician and carpenter for Facilities Management, the manger was all created by the BYUH Carpentry shop. Carpentry was asked to make the manger storable, moveable and high quality.


Toelupe stated the original dimensions were small in comparison to the huge sculptures that were being shipped from Utah, so adjustments were made to make the sizings match.


The Carpentry Department made other adjustments as well to keep the manger realistic, said Jake Fullmer, a carpenter for Facilities Management. “Originally, the roof of the manger was going to be steep. If it was too steep, it would have looked like a house. The way it came out is really nice.”


According to Toelupe, the sides of the manger stand 8 feet tall with a slight rise at the center, 8 feet deep and 12 feet wide. The entire manger is made up of about 14 smaller segments that can each be taken apart and stored.


As for the sculptures, the largest is the two wisemen sculpture standing at 88 inches tall and weighing 270 pounds. The smallest sculpture on the scene is the ram, sitting at 24 inches tall and weighing 85 pounds. The Holy Family, which includes Mary, Joseph and Christ, stands at 60 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds.


According to Fullmer, the process of bringing the Nativity scene from the Carpentry shop, located right behind the Old Gymnasium, to the Flag Circle took four hours. The sculptures themselves were transported by large moving cranes.


Instead of hay to lay on the floor of the manger and around the sculptures, the Facilities Management team decided to use California grass that was taken from behind the school. Sao said they tried looking for someone who sold hay, but could not find anyone. He stated he was very pleased with how the California grass looks.


The placement of the Nativity scene serves many purposes, according to Sao. People who want to see the Nativity up close can do so from their cars and drive around the Flag Circle.


“If people come from the entrance to the school, they look right into the Savior, Mary and Joseph. President Tanner is into focusing on the Savior. His focus is always on the Savior,” said Sao.


Sao’s hope is that each year there will be additions to the Nativity scene and school lightings. He hopes to involve more students in the set-up process. He mentioned organizing with the Samoan and Tongan clubs to help with the coconut weavings.


Toelupe noted something special about this manger. “If you step back, you can see the star from the school building right above the manger. It matches right above it.”

Date Published: 
Monday, December 11, 2017
Last Edited: 
Monday, December 11, 2017