Terry Naauao Panee, manager of the Islands of Hawaii at the Polynesian Cultural Center, said Hawaiian culture is known for being superstitious because there are many different gods. “The Hawaiians understand that everything has a spirit,” he explained. In the gospel, all things were created spiritually first before physically, he added.
For example, he said Hawaiian people always ask permission from Mother Nature before cutting things down or taking anything with them. “Before they go and cut down a tree, they pray to know if that’s the right tree for them to cut out out not,” he explained. “In the old Hawaiian ways, there was one supreme God,‘Io’,’’ he said.
“So, we’re praying to Heavenly Father to ask him to allow our spirit to commune with the spirit of the tree, or whatever it is, to let us know if it’s okay [to cut it]. That’s how our Hawaiian ancestors viewed everything.”
The same principle applies when going to the ocean, he shared. “They weren’t praying to the ocean god, they were praying to have the spirit of the ocean let them know it’s okay to go. If it didn’t feel right, they wouldn’t go. They wouldn’t go fishing, they wouldn’t go swimming, they wouldn’t do anything, because it wasn’t right.”
He said the best thing about his job is sharing his culture with guests and students because he enjoys teaching. He said he has also been an adjunct faculty in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, teaching Hawaiian language and Hawaiian Studies, at BYU–Hawaii since 1988.
Panee said in the short time the visitors are in the Hawaiian Village at the PCC, workers try to help them understand how Hawaiians connect with nature.
“When you really understand why the people you’re visiting do certain things, you get a bigger appreciation for the people and place and experiences you have,” he said.
He said aloha is not just a way to say “Hello,” “Goodbye” and “I love you.” Aloha also means respect between people and mother nature.
“Everything stems from aloha. Without aloha, all the other cultural values [we have] really don’t have the strength to stand on their own,” he explained. “It’s not just aloha between people. It’s also aloha between people and nature. It’s aloha between you and the ocean [through] how you interact, treat and take care of it.”
Panee, who is half Hawaiian and half Chinese, said for Hawaiians, aloha is what they share with the visitors and what they want them to remember the most.
In the Hawaiian Village at the PCC, Panee said they present the hula. “We take from the traditional chant all the way to modern dance,” he explained. The traditional chant, which does not go along with dance, is called the Oli. Through the years, he said Hawaiians started to chant and dance at the same time.
“Hula tells a story,” he said, emphasizing how they try to show visitors the story is the same whether it is shared through chanting, dancing or modern dancing, called the hula ‘auana.
The chant they currently use in their presentation is called ‘O Kalapana, kai leo nui, he said. “Kalapana is about a small fishing village on a Big Island. … It’s no longer there [because] in 1990, a lava flow came and wiped out the whole bay and town of Kalapana.” He said even though the place was wiped out, its memory lives on through the chant, which is passed down through generations.
Sili‘ilagi Moeai, a junior from Maui majoring in computer science, is a performer at the Hawaiian Village. She said she hopes when the guests return home from their visit, they will have a better understanding of the deeper meaning of the hula, which is their way of sharing their culture, ancestors, history and who they are as Hawaiians.
Origin of taro
Panee said the sky father, Wakea, and earth mother, Papahanaumoku, had an argument. One day, the sky father had an affair with one of his daughters, Ho’ohokukalani. They had a son, who was born stillborn, so they buried him at the corner of their house. A taro grew from his grave, he explained.
He said the name of the stillborn son was Haloanakalaukapalili. They had another son called Haloa, which is believed to be where the Hawaiian race came from, he explained. “In Hawaiian culture, taro is considered to be our older brother. ... That’s why Hawaiians have a deep respect for the taro,” he said.
When some varieties of taro are cut, a red sap comes out. “It bleeds. The Hawaiians will say, ‘See, it bleeds like us.’ We believe it’s to show it’s akin to the Hawaiians,” he shared.
In the Hawaiian Village, Panee said they showcase different kinds of taro every day, including Tahitian taro varieties. “If you’ve never had different varieties, you can come, check, try and taste to see the [different] characteristics,” he said. The village has been using the taro they raised at the PCC for their poi and taro demonstrations since the center reopened, although they previously bought it from an outside source, he said.
Performing at the village
David Auna, originally from Hauula, is a performer and singer in the Hawaiian Village at the PCC. He served as a full-time missionary for the Church in Arizona, where he said his companions taught him to love, share and cherish his own culture.
When he returned home from his mission, Auna said, “I had this great desire to experience and deeply learn about my culture and to share it with the world.”
As the opportunity arose for him to work at the Hawaiian Village, he said, “I knew this is where I need to be, and where I really want to be. ... I am really proud to live my culture every day.”