Located in Laie, Oahu, Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a living museum theme park operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, simulating the culture and traditions of historic Polynesian villages. The history of interaction between the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the Polynesian residents of the islands of Hawaii dates back to 1850, when Mormon missionaries arrived at what were then known to the Western world as the Sandwich Islands.
By 1865, the church had developed a 6,000-acre plantation on the island of Oahu, encompassing all of the present-day city of Laie. The Church started a temple at the site in 1915, and in 1921, Church leader David McKay conceived of the idea of starting an institution of higher learning at the temple. McKay’s vision came to fruition in 1955, with the opening of the Church College of Hawai’i, which was incorporated as a branch of Brigham Young University in 1974.
The idea of a cultural center at the site of the college was first proposed by Matthew Cowley, a Mormon leader concerned by the loss of traditional island cultures as a result of the Church’s activity. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Church held traditional Polynesian hukilau fishing festivals as fundraisers, which raised support for the idea of a permanent homage to the island’s native cultures. In 1962, McKay authorized the creation of the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was opened to the public in October the following year.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
Today, the Center encompasses more than 42 acres of land in Laie, featuring individual tropical village simulations dedicated to the various traditional cultures of the Pacific Islands. Since its 1963 opening, the Center has hosted more than 32 million visitors, earning a reputation as a major national tourist destination as the result of promotional appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and at the Hollywood Bowl. Though it is a commercial facility, the Center is primarily staffed by students at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and a portion of its profits are allocated to scholarship programs at the University.
The Center is divided into village sections celebrating the traditions of Pacific Island cultures and allowing visitors to participate in live demonstrations. Each village is organized around the traditional home and social structures of the cultures and highlights major indigenous cultural arts and customs. At the Hawaii Village, hula demonstrations teach visitors basic dance movements while educating participants on the history and heritage of the art form. Traditional taro cooking and Hawaiian lei crafting demonstrations are also highlighted, with samples of poi dishes offered. Dance is also a central focus of the Tahiti Village, which features music demonstrations of traditional to’ere drum accompaniment. Ta nafa drumming is showcased at the Tonga Village, which also allows visitors to compete against villagers in games of lafo, a sport similar to shuffleboarding, and tolo spear throwing. The Samoa Village educates visitors on traditional daily practices such as fire starting and coconut cracking, with demonstrations of barefoot tree climbing to obtain coconuts. A six-story temple is the centerpiece of the Fiji Village, which highlights traditional military weapons and practices, and the Maori Village allows visitors to take part in poi ball and tititorea stick games.
In addition to village exhibits, visitors may also embark on canoe rides at the Center’s lagoon, either as part of guided tours led by paddling guides or on individual excursions. A free shuttle tour transports visitors to the University campus for tours of the Laie Hawaii Temple and Visitor Center, and replicas of 19th-century Church structures, including a chapel, school house, and mission settlement, may be explored. Additional exhibits are dedicated to the culture and famous statues of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, and the history of the early days of LDS missions in the Pacific. Island-themed art, clothing, and decor are sold at various stores throughout the Center, including the Mission Home and the Ukulele Experience Gallery.
Ongoing Programs and Events
A nightly multicultural performance, Ha–Breath of Life, is offered for an additional fee, showcasing traditional songs and dances of Polynesian cultures. An IMAX experience, Hawaiian Journey, takes visitors on a tour of the islands’ natural beauty, exploring the area’s mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes, and jungles. A canoe pageant, Rainbows of Paradise, is also presented on the Center’s lagoon every afternoon, and a Voyage of Discovery show chronicles the ancient migrations of Hawaiian villagers.
Several dining event options are offered for visitors, including a traditional Ali?i Lu?au Buffet with ceremonial presentation of imu pork cooked in an underground oven. A number of other special events are hosted at the Center throughout the year, including the World Fire Knife Dance Competition, the Moanikeala Hula Festival, and the Micronesia Betelnut Festival. A Haunted Lagoon experience is offered during October, and a number of holiday festivals celebrate traditional Polynesian and Western holidays.
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762, Phone: 800-367-7060