More than 1,200 BYU–Hawaii students representing 31 groups share ‘taste of home’ during Culture Night

Nothing showcases the variety of cultures, countries and kingdoms represented at BYU–Hawaii better than its annual Culture Night

Brigham Young University–Hawaii is a place of remarkable diversity.

Last summer, in speaking about BYU–Hawaii during a presentation at BYU Education Week, the Church commissioner of education, Elder Clark G. Gilbert, noted that roughly 100 countries are represented in its student body.

From Mongolia, India and Indonesia to the Philippines, Japan and the Polynesian islands, students gather on the North Shore of the island of Oahu.  

And nothing showcases that variety of cultures, countries and kingdoms better than the university’s annual Culture Night.

It’s the school’s largest campuswide event, with roughly 1,200 student performers. The annual event required two nights, March 15 and 17, to accommodate performances from 31 special interest clubs on campus. Each club prepared and presented its own music and dance with authentic costumes, choreography and, in many cases, instruments and props.

Culture Night is promoted as “a celebration of the university’s mission, cultural diversity and the promotion of peace internationally.”

“This event brings about unity that no other event on campus can do,” commented Hellen Nuti Taanoa, a student performer. “It opens up opportunities for new friendships, new knowledge and new appreciation for the world we live in.”

The Japan Club performs during BYU–Hawaii Culture Night 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center in Laie, Hawaii. | Zane Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Such a melting pot of diversity can also be a hotbed for homesickness and culture shock, however. In those cases, Culture Night provides an effective remedy.

In a podcast interview with BYU–Hawaii’s student magazine, Ke Alaka’i, Filipino Club President Rolando Ragsag Jr. shared how hard it can be to be so far away from home. “Sometimes we feel lonely, but during Culture Night we are able to express ourselves, our culture, our people.”

This year the Filipino Club performed a dance honoring the Kadayawan Festival of Davao City in the Philippines. “I joined to perform this dance because I wanted to feel the adrenaline of being home celebrating a festival once again and hearing the beautiful music and dancing with it,” said Camille Jovenes, a student performer. “Kadayawan Festival speaks about thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest in nature, and for me it was also a way of giving thanks for the beauty of our campus in Hawaii.”

The Filipino Club performs during BYU–Hawaii Culture Night 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center in Laie, Hawaii. | Zane Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Samoa Club President Taylor Lagaaia told Ke Alaka’i: “Every time we perform a dance, we sing a song, it reminds us of our home. It always relates back home.”

Lagaaia shared the Samoan proverb: “Po’o fea a lele lava le toloa ae ma’au lava I le vai.”

In Samoa there is a bird called a toloa that lives by a river or body of water. It can fly many miles away but will always return. “That’s the feeling I want to create,” Lagaaia said. “This is the nest they can come back to. This is the home away from home.”

The China Club performs during BYU–Hawaii Culture Night 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center in Laie, Hawaii. | Zane Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Many members of the Tonga Club have not been able to visit home for close to three years due to Tonga’s closed borders during the COVID-19 pandemic

With that in mind, the Tonga Club’s theme for Culture Night this year was “Ko e ‘Tua mo Tonga ko hoku Tofi’a” or “God and Tonga are our inheritance,” explained Tonga Club President Alfred Kapeli. “We want everyone to feel the spirit and get a taste of what it’s like to be in Tonga.”

Participation in Culture Night also gives many students the opportunity to learn about other cultures.

The Samoa Club performs during BYU–Hawaii Culture Night 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center in Laie, Hawaii. | Zane Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Taanoa was born in New Zealand of Samoan parents but was raised in Australia. She performed with not only with the Samoan Culture Club to honor her ancestors, but also the Fiji and Cook Islands clubs.

She felt blessed, she said, to learn more about other cultures and traditions through music and dance. 

“As an international school, we have so many different cultures that this event allows us as students to explore and learn from primary sources,” Taanoa said.

Jovenes, with the Filipino Club, said the dances and music and even the costumes all have a story to tell,

And while Culture Night offers an opportunity to celebrate many customs, traditions and heritages, it’s also important to remember that the most important culture is the culture of Christ, said Lagaaia, with the Samoa Club. “The culture of Christ takes the best out of all of our cultures, and that’s something I love about the school and especially Culture Night. That’s what I look forward to sharing,” he said.

For Lexi Langley, one of the podcast hosts for Ke Alaka’i, attending Culture Night last year felt like a spiritual experience. After seeing so many “beautifully diverse” people coming together in music and joy and celebration, Langley thought, “This is going to be what heaven is like.”

Members of BYU–Hawaii’s Tahiti Club perform during campus Culture Night 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center in Laie, Hawaii. | Camille Jovenes, BYU–Hawaii
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