Annual lu’au celebrates Polynesian culture

A subtle strum of a ukulele, the savory sweet smell of teriyaki and the taste of juicy pineapple awaited students and community members in the Hixson Union Building on April 12. Those and other aspects of Polynesian culture were brought to life during the 44th annual lu’au organized by the Whitworth Hawaiian Club.

“It’s a collaboration of the different cultures (Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti) and it’s a way for us to perpetuate in the mainland and Whitworth,” said senior Amber Manuel, the Hawaiian Club’s vice president.

The lu’au began at 5:30 p.m. with dinner served in the HUB. Students and community members were greeted by club members wearing leis, playing with hula hoops or playing ukuleles.

Simon Puzankov|Photographer

“We prepare all the food in mostly traditional style,” said sophomore Mary Walker, the president of the Hawaiian Club. “This year, Sodexo is letting us use their dining room facilities.”

In the past, the lu’au was hosted in the Fieldhouse but, due to construction, other arrangements had to be made this year. As a result, the HUB was crowded and finding seating was difficult.

However, Hawaiian music played while attendees stood in line, waiting for their chance to try kalua pig, shoyu chicken or teriyaki beef. Side dishes such as macaroni salad, white rice, yakisoba, lomi salmon and fresh pineapple were available for self-serve. Pineapple upside-down cake and rice pudding were served for dessert.

“I wish they served food like this all the time,” sophomore Lindsay Ross said.

The real show began in Cowles Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Palm tree leaves bordered the seating area and flowers decorated the stage, giving the auditorium a Hawaiian feel.

As the house lights dimmed, the crowd became quiet, and Manuel’s voice came through the speaker system. She welcomed the audience to the lu’au and began telling the story of Polynesian roots. The stage lights glowing red and fog coming from back stage and seeping into the audience gave a sense of mystery and wonder.

The calmness was disrupted by the yelling of men from the back of the auditorium.

“I liked the first part where the guys started screaming from behind us,” sophomore Katie McKinney said.

Male dancers hooped and hollered as they walked toward the stage to perform the Haka dance, a Maori war dance. The men chanted, stomped and slapped their bare chests. The crowd was silent and tense.

The two following dances were influenced from Samoan and Tongan culture. Freshman Nia Fealofani choreographed those dances.

This is the first year authentic Western Samoan and Tongan dances have been incorporated into the lu’au event, Fealofani said.

“My section of the lu’au is raw material from the country,” Fealofani said. “The other dances are more modern.”

One dance represented the Tongan culture while four different styles of Samoan dances were performed.

The segment started with a dance of celebration and ended with a slapping dance that illustrated the movement of Polynesian people up through the islands toward Hawaii.

“I’ve put together a little something to show how we’ve traveled,” Fealofani said. “Because that’s how the program is set up, to show how the cultures have traveled.”

Chanting, a capella and some humorous improv caused a positive audience response. People cheered at impressive dance movements and shouted encouragements when the performers got tired.

The Tahitian dance also got a large crowd response. Female dancers in colorful wraps and grass skirts represented the seductiveness of Tahiti as they moved to the rhythm of fast-paced drums. When the performers finished their dance, audience members were brought to the stage to show off their seductive dance moves.

“It’s nerve racking, but it’s also really fun,” said junior Alma Aguilar, one of the lu’au performers.

Faculty participants also had a chance to perform a traditional lu’au dance before the intermission.

The second half of the lu’au performances were derived from Hawaiian culture and represented modern tradition. A theme of peace, beauty and love outlined the dances for this section. The female dances were graceful and less dramatic than the Samoan slap-dances.

Roughly 500 students, community members and faculty attended the lu’au. At the end of the performance, performers received congratulations from family, friends and peers. Many of the people leaving the performance did so with big smiles on their faces.

Bekah Bresee Staff Writer

Contact Bekah Bresee at rbresee16@my.whitworth.edu

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