The king of Tonga, His Majesty King Tupou VI, and his wife, Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u, began a two-day visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center on June 10, amid seashell trumpeting, flower lei greetings, traditional Hawaiian chanting, drumming and ancient-style hula. They came to mark the grand reopening of the PCC’s newly renovated Tongan Village on June 11.
Polynesian Cultural Center president and chief executive officer Alfred Grace and his wife, Valerie Grace, then escorted the royal couple in decorated electric carts to a special banquet in their honor in the PCC’s large Samoan guest house, where according to custom they sat on a raised dais. A large Tongan coat of arms had been hung for the occasion and each pole in the domed building had been braided with coconut-leaf fronds and flowers.
The king’s entourage included Hon. Semisi Sika, Minister of Tourism and Infrastructure — who is a 1994 BYU–Hawaii graduate; Hon. Tupouahomee Tuita, Cultural Director; Gary Pasina Lavaki, a cultural consultant and PCC alumnus; Mr. Motu’apuaka, his majesty’s talking chief; Mrs. Viela Tupou, Lord Chamberlain and private secretary; Siaosi Kaho, ADC; Siale Puloka, Assistant Secretary, Palace Office; and Ms. Palolo Uata and Ms. Ilaisaane Loloa, personal assistants.
In addition to the Graces, a special Latter-day Saint delegation included Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund; Elder O. Vincent Haleck, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency, and his wife, Sister Peggy Ann Haleck; Elder ‘Aisake Tukuafu, Area Seventy in Tonga and his wife, Sister Lose Tukuafu; Elder Aley K. Auna Jr., Area Seventy in Hawaii and his wife, Danelle; BYU–Hawaii president John S. Tanner and his wife, Sister Susan W. Tanner; Eric Shumway, the retired BYU-H and former PCC president who holds a Tongan chiefly title, and his wife, Sister Carolyn Shumway; and Kalo Mataele Soukop, a former PCC labor missionary, original cast member, and emeritus member of the PCC board of directors, and her husband, Harry Soukop.
In his remarks, Elder Renlund told the king and queen he was connected to Tonga through his mother-in-law, whose mother was born in Nuku’alofa, capital of the “Friendly Islands,” and he joked how early in their relationship he had to learn to say the Tongan greeting, Mālō e lelei, correctly. He also spoke of the importance of family ties and quoted from "The Proclamation on the Family."
Earlier in the program BYU–Hawaii president John S. Tanner reported that Tongans comprise the largest group of Polynesian students at the university, and recently delighted the student body and community during the school's customary Culture Night program with the largest and liveliest production.
Also earlier in the program President Grace explained that a group of BYU-Hawaii and community men would sing Afi Mei Pulotu ("Fire From Heaven"), a Tongan song composed as a gift to their majesties to celebrate their historic visit. The ballad related how members of the Tongan royal family have courageously assisted Latter-day Saint efforts in Tonga, starting with the first missionaries who arrived in 1891 and extending to the contemporary efforts of Prince ‘Ata, who the king and queen allowed to be baptized.
After the banquet, Hon. Sika said returning to the PCC was like “coming home. This is where it all began for me. I changed my major here to tourism and travel,” he said. “My career in tourism started through the training I went through at BYU–Hawaii and at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”
He added that the Kingdom of Tonga is proud of the Tongan Village at the PCC. “It’s a relationship that’s very critical in our economic growth, especially in tourism. The promotion that’s carried on here in the Center is something we could never afford to do back home. Tonga is being introduced to thousands of people on a daily basis.”
Following the banquet and program, the royal couple attended the Cultural Center’s world-famous evening show, Hā: Breath of Life, where again according to custom, they sat on a specially-constructed, raised throne. After the production, the entire cast of over 100 performers serenaded the king and queen with "We'll Bring the World His Truth" ("Army of Helaman").
The royal visit is slated to continue Saturday morning, June 11, with the actual reopening program, which will include appropriate Polynesian protocol for the last remaining monarchs in the South Pacific.
Mike Foley currently volunteers his Internet content skills for the Polynesian Cultural Center and other outlets. ALOHA.