Aloha Means More than You Thought

Hello and goodbye, these are indeed daily uses of “Aloha.” But the true meaning is more beautiful.

“Ha” is the breath of life. “Aloha” is to give the other person the breath of life upon greeting. Ancient Hawaiian practice was to greet each other with noses pressed together and to inhale each other’s life. Parents also did this for a newborn child.

What a glorious gift: the breath of life. We all have people who lift us up; and others who are draining–truly impacting our sense of life in the moment. I find it poetic and simultaneously ironic to learn about sharing the breath of life in Hawaii; a place where I felt so incredibly alive and in-the-moment. A place where you know the Earth is alive; and where the locals seem to live with a love of experience and activity.

Cultural Theme Attraction

This introduction to Aloha was the first of many incredible lessons at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. It’s like an Epcot Center just for the islands of Polynesia–complete with indigenous dancing, drumming, spear throwing, and warrior chants. Just an average day.

The islands are Hawaii (of course), Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and Aoteroa (New Zealand). Each has its own region in the “park” where you learn about native activities including weaving and cooking; how warrior exercises became women’s dances; how children’s games built hand-eye-coordination for survival, hunting, and battle; and visit structures representative of housing and community gathering places.

Performances punctuate the day. Vibrant costumes; remarkable energy; insight into how music and dance were forms of education before there was a written language. And most impressive: the majority of performers are college students from these very islands attending Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus. By working 20 hours a week at the PCC, they achieve their work-study commitment and not only learn about their own (and other cultures), but also defray college costs.

Canoe Pageant

The parade on Disney’s Main Street has nothing on this. These folks are dancing–with vim and vigor–on double-hulled canoes while they’re moving. I mean, come on. The power and grace from both men and women was striking. Click on the pic to advance the slideshow.

Samoa: Where Men Cook, Making Women Happy

The “host” of the Samoan show has clearly told these jokes before–and they’re genuinely funny. But he’s more like a comedian: gifted timing and delivery, and a love of what he’s doing; this is no teen giving a rote tour.

He showed us how to make fire: you truly rub two sticks together, then ignite a coconut husk. Look away and you missed it.

Lighting Fire with sticks at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu in Hawaii

Fiji: Where Big Hair is Power

If I had only known in elementary school, high school, and college. I then discovered layers and hair product. But I still have my power–first thing in the morning.

Big Hair

Tonga: Settle Arguments by Spear-Throwing

If two people couldn’t come to a solution to their disagreement, they threw spears. Whoever hit bullseye won. Three tries and if no one got center, let it go, man, just let it go. I think this is BRILLIANT. It doesn’t address the emotion, but for idiotic things, let’s do it!

And we got to. And I did…mediocre. You hold the base of the spear at the back and then push. My spear made it just next the bullseye area; but it was laying flat. That doesn’t count. I would have lost.

Spear throwing in the Tonga Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu in Hawaii

We also made origami with palm fronds. It’s a fish, in case you weren’t sure. And yes, I did this! Mom–can we put it on the fridge?

Palm Frond Origami at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu in Hawaii

Tahiti: Shake your Money Maker

We took a five minute dance lesson. I have no idea how I looked; but I felt both awkward and careless.

This is what the pros look like. By far the most impressive–and sexy–dance among the islands. And let’s remember that these are BYU students. That’s a lot of self control back at the Mormon dorms, folks.

Aotearoa: There Seems to be a lot of War

Nearly everything we learned about Aotearoa (New Zealand) related to war. A child’s game tossing sticks in rhythm taught hand-eye-coordination in preparation to be a warrior. A woman’s dance (amazing, and FF the video to 4:30) with balls on strings started from men strengthening their wrists and arms when the balls were originally filled with rock. Men prepare for battle and welcome guests with the same powerful and visceral Haka dance. 

Aotearoa at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu in Hawaii

Photos courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center

A Drummer’s Paradise

The rhythm is constant and the diversity of drums is incredible. We played with bamboo poles and even that was infectious.  With drums used to entertain, energize for battle or hunting, add tempo to daily routine, it’s no wonder that they are ubiquitous and potent.

But Wait, there’s More!

How to climb a tree to collect coconutshula dancing; the luau; and an unbelievable show complete with fire dancing. Those will be posted in the coming days.

The Polynesian Cultural Center gives an amazing introduction to cultures that I certainly hadn’t thought about. I came intent to only learn about Hawaii and was delighted that they “forced” me to learn to more. I’m thankful for that.


When did you go somewhere focused to experience one thing and then enjoyed others to your surprise?

Disclosure: The Polynesian Cultural Center gave me a complimentary Ambassador pass, which included entry, a guided tour for the day, and access to the luau and Ha evening performance. While I didn’t experience the PCC without an ambassador guide, I would recommend one. There are performances throughout the day and your guide will make sure you see them; rather than you having to map out your schedule. There’s a lot to see and they facilitate your ability to do so; and to experience native practices–which were the highlight for me.

6 Responses

Hey, I’ve seen tattoos like these at the CVS on Cheshire Bridge Road. And they have nothing to do with Polynesia.

Jeannine – if you career fails, you’ve got comedy knocking at your door, missy. When going to the Edgewood Target I’m surprised to see pierced and tattooed folks there–but they need toilet paper, too.


now,can not wait to find out why esquimos rub their noses in greeting [and do not tell me it is a myth ; and what about santa claus ]
Love the grae 8 photos !!!

MJK – pay my way to Alaska and I’ll find out just for you!


Was there a Miss Canoe Pageant? And thank ou for the etymology lesson l. The word aloha. Now when I am “haha-ing” people and they ask why, I can say “in giving you the breath of life.”. To which they will probably respond with, “here’s a breath mint”

Jef – only you would think of a Miss Canoe Pageant. And I’m ashamed that I didn’t. And your comment about a breath mint has me doing a grandpa-laugh.

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