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'Behold Laie' pageant celebrates sesquicentennial

LAIE, HAWAII —

For hundreds of years before the outside world made contact, Hawaiians in this still-small community on the northeast windward shore of Oahu sought out this special place for its walled pu’uhonua — a place of refuge from ancient warfare and cleansing from broken kapu or laws. Aspects of that theme carried over well when the Church purchased the 6,000-plus-acre Laie Plantation in 1865 as a gathering place for its members in the islands.

Over the 150 years since, Laie has influenced millions of people from around the world, just as a prophet of the Lord foretold; and on Nov. 7, almost 800 youth and others in the BYU-Hawaii Cannon Activities Center presented two performances of Behold Laie, a pageant honoring the Church’s unique involvement here that has turned this community into a spiritual, educational and cultural focal point anchored by a triad of Latter-day Saint institutions:

  • The Laie Hawaii Temple, dedicated by President Heber J. Grant on Thanksgiving Day 1919.
  • Brigham Young University — Hawaii, founded by President David O. McKay on Feb. 12, 1955, and now educating students from over 70 nations, primarily in Asia and the Pacific islands.
  • The Polynesian Cultural Center, which opened in 1963 and has since attracted over 39 million people. Or as President McKay said when he dedicated the BYU-Hawaii site 60 years ago, “not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people who will come seeking to know what this town and its significance are.”
Starting about a year ago, youth and priesthood leaders from the five stakes surrounding this community began planning an appropriate sesquicentennial celebration. Delsa Atoa Moe, a member of Laie 1st Ward who chaired the pageant committee, said they wanted to create a production that would “keep our youth engaged in those things that draw them to the Spirit and help them strengthen their testimonies. If it meant three months of rehearsals and 11 months of planning, and doing very little of anything else, it was all worth it.”

“We said from the beginning as a committee that we really hoped more than anything, that this would be a spiritual experience as it was for our Laie temple rededication cultural celebration in 2010,” said Tania Mahoni, who served as pageant director and scriptwriter for both events. “The youth now still talk about that, and it’s five years later.”

Sister Mahoni, a member of Laie 5th Ward who is originally from the Cook Islands, told the youth in one of the practices, “I wasn’t born and raised in Laie, but I understand the sacredness of this place. I’ve always understood that, but I didn’t understand the depth of it. I would never have come to that understanding, and I wouldn’t have had the spiritual experiences that I’ve had, if I hadn’t been a part of this.

“Twenty years down the road we want them to look back and see that they were part of this. Like me, I wanted them to have a greater appreciation and understanding for this place where they live, and understand the sacredness of it. I know that they have done that.”

The committee chose Behold Laie, a popular but pertinent song as the pageant’s title and finale featuring a hauntingly beautiful duet and the entire cast. The song was written by the late Aunty Alice Namakelua, a member of the Church. In researching it, Sister Mahoni said she was struck by the scriptural significance of the word “’behold,’ which the Lord or prophets used to acknowledge something significant.”

In plotting the script, which uses a large tree and projected graphics of the branches and roots of a large tree, Sister Mahoni said she was influenced by scriptural references to “seeds of faith, of courage, of love.” She also utilized President Harold B. Lee’s comparison of the “fruits” of the “branching tree of the gospel including love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and faith.”

Behold Laie applied those concepts into scenes filled with elements of island dancing and dramatizations that reflected the historic pu’uhonua, the influence of the Laie Relief Society on Hawaii Queen Kapiolani in the 1880s, the struggle and faith of Laie sugar cane plantation workers as they overcame drought and other challenges, the Laie Hukilau — which eventually led to the creation of the Polynesian Cultural Center — the impact of the Church College of Hawaii — which was renamed BYU-Hawaii in 1974 — on Laie in the 1950s and 1960s, how Hawaiian Saints helped preserve hula and other aspects of their culture, and how the temple began blessing the lives of devout Saints from throughout Asia and the Pacific islands, starting with President Joseph F. Smith dedicating the site in 1915.

“As we did the rehearsals this past week, they were moving people to tears,” Sister Moe said. “I was crying, too, so I knew this was something that was going to be powerful.”

In introducing the two performances, Elder Aley Auna Jr., an Area Seventy, said Behold Laie “recognizes those who have gone before us. We’re grateful for them. We’re grateful for their sacrifices. Many have traveled from far-away lands to gather to Laie for the purpose of being able to do better for their families; and what a marvelous blessing it is, not only to have this school, but to have the temple in our midst, the visitors’ center in our midst, and the Polynesian Cultural Center — all blending together to be able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.”

Elder Auna also recognized the community kūpuna or elders, who were special guests at the pageant. “They have done so much to bless our lives. Many of your families started Laie, and today we have a chance to witness events in the lives of many that bring this group together in a whole new place.”

As Sister Moe had foreseen, the audiences were touched by the performances. “The production was wonderful,” she said. “Elder David Warner — our consultant on the PCC’s night show and managing director of the Church’s priesthood and family department who also oversees all Church productions — was present at the 5 o’clock show. He said he saw the temple rededication cultural celebration we put on five years ago and ‘knew this was going to be good, but what I didn’t expect was to be moved the way I was moved.’”

Sister Moe added, “I also heard some of the youth tell their leaders how grateful they were to be a part of it. One of the Hauula Seminary teachers told me this past week she had asked her class to make a list on the things that they are doing that are bringing them closer to Christ, and the things that they’re doing that are taking them away from Christ. She said three youth wrote on their papers that being a part of the rehearsals for the celebration was bringing them closer to Christ.”

Laie Hawaii North Stake president Finau Hafoka also described the pageant as “excellent.” He said, “I couldn’t help but feel touched and impressed, not just with the performance, but with the spirit that was conveyed to all of us here tonight. It was wonderful.”

Laie Hawaii Stake president Aaron Shumway said, “Tonight was magical. The Spirit was strong, the energy was high and the youth were amazing. We are so grateful for their willingness to be part of this.”

Elder Auna noted that the performances were a “marvelous experience” for everyone involved. “I spoke to a number of the visitors who are not members of the Church,” he said, “and they were very impressed, not only with the performance of the youth, but more importantly with the message that they shared.”

That morning, hundreds of residents braved intermittent rains and gusty trade winds to watch a community parade also honoring the sesquicentennial of the Church in Laie.

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