Polynesian Center reaches 30th year: Chiefly title bestowed by king of Tonga during festivities

Three decades of sharing the culture of Polynesia was celebrated in Laie as the Polynesian Cultural Center commemorated its 30th anniversary July 10-18.

The high point of the festivities was the participation of Tonga's King Taufaahau Tupou IV, the last reigning monarch in Polynesia. The king joined the celebration July 17-18, and on the first day of his visit bestowed on the Polynesian Cultural Center's president, Lester W.B. Moore, a Tongan "chiefly" title.King Tupou IV was accompanied to the Hawaiian island of Oahu by his wife, Queen Halaevalu Mataaho; his daughter, Princess Salote Pilolevu, and her family; and other official dignitaries.

Others participating in the festivities held at the center and on a large lawn on the campus of BYU-Hawaii, adjacent to the center, included Elder John H. Groberg, president of the North America West Area; and Eric Shumway, vice president of academics at BYU-Hawaii, a member of the Polynesian Cultural Center's board of directors and chairman of the celebration.

About 2,000 people, mainly from among Hawaii's 15,000 Tongan residents, welcomed the Tongan king and attended a day-long celebration July 17. During a special ceremony, Pres. Moore received the title of Mafi Fakapotu, which translated, means, "Powerful One At The Distant Spot (of the lakalaka dance) or Champion of the Rear Guard."

This title, explained Brother Shumway, who is an authority on Tongan language and culture, means a leader who even though is on the distant edge - figuratively speaking - is entrusted to maintain the integrity of the dance, or in this case, the kingdom and culture.

Pres. Moore called the investiture of the chiefly title "the most significant cultural event in the history of the center."

He expressed gratitude for the king's participation in the anniversary events and especially for the bestowal of the chiefly title. "This is symbolic of the acceptance that the Polynesian Cultural Center is truly a unique treasure that shares the culture and spirit of Polynesia."

The bestowal of the chiefly title is unique in this instance, Pres. Moore explained, because of three reasons: The chiefly title was bestowed by the king outside of Tonga; second, the title recipient was not a Tongan; and third, he was not in the royal family.

Brother Shumway, who himself holds a Tongan chiefly title, said that the royal reception of the king entailed all the speeches, traditional royal protocol, feasting and dancing befitting a Polynesian monarch.

The ceremonies began with "Fakatu`uta," a royal greeting of the king. Various groups of Polynesians from the center and from surrounding communities in Hawaii, beginning with New Zealand Maori, welcomed the king and his entourage and escorted them down Kulanui Lane, a road about a quarter mile in length leading from Kamehameha Highway to the campus. The king was then seated under a traditionally decorated canopy of fine mats and tapa, which is course cloth of pounded bark.

After the royal procession, "Pongipongi," the investiture of the chiefly title, took place. During this ceremony, Pres. Moore presented gifts of roasted pigs, other foods, tapa, fine mats and a beautifully hand-carved koa wood bowl to the king.

Guests then enjoyed "Taumafa" (feasting) and "Faiva" (dancing).

On July 18, Elder Groberg and the king spoke at a fireside, and three Tongan choirs - LDS, Methodist and Catholic - sang.

Preserving and sharing the heritage of Pacific island cultures has been the main purpose of the Polynesian Cultural Center since it opened Oct. 12, 1963. President Hugh B. Brown, then a counselor to President David O. McKay, presided over the opening ceremonies of the center. In 1975-76, the center was redesigned and enlarged.

The center has grown from 15 acres to more than 45 acres with seven re-created South Pacific villages. The center not only teaches tourists about Polynesian culture, but also provides employment to students of BYU-Hawaii.

Today, the center includes an IMAX theater with a large screen on which are shown cultural and educational films photographed on locations in the South Pacific.

The center attracts nearly a million visitors a year.

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