Polynesian Cultural Center luau

Well, I didn't get invited to any native shindigs in Hawai`i, not that any natives you'll find are really native anymore (the only truly aboriginal island, Ni`ihau, is off-limits to tourists to prevent natives coming into contact with modernity). So here's a pretty decent luau, at the PCC in Laie (owned by Brigham Young University, which maintains an adjacent campus/mission).

Kalua pig, the stereotype and centerpiece of the luau. Kalua refers to the process of digging a deep pit or oven known as imu, placing heated rocks inside covered by banana leaves (to create flavorful smoke), and covering the main course with more leaves, moistened burlap (to prevent fire or scorching), and earth. The Polynesian Cultural Center is not your typical tourist trap - it actually does its best to faithfully replicate ancient rituals and traditions, including having native men and women from the various Polynesian islands come to Brigham Young University to study while they also practice their culture and keep it alive.

I get the feeling this may have been slightly artificially colored, but maybe not. Taro, a starchy root that can substitute for grains in cooking items such as this bread, grows purple in Hawai`i. Sweet potatoes, normally yellow or orange in the United States, also grow purple here. I'm sure the cause is the rich volcanic soil with high iron content and a different balance of other minerals than found elsewhere.

Cousin Benny, one of the more enjoyable characters at the Center, is also one of the most talented. He can play the `ukulele quite well behind his head and with his teeth. Go ahead kids, try this at home. But you'll need an `ukulele first - with or without the `okina (glottal stop).

As it turns out, he's not even the most talented person in his family. His daughter, Natasha Kai (clearly taller than he is), won Olympic gold with the U.S. women's soccer team in Beijing in 2008.

The entire show following the luau was incredible to watch - and I do recommend spending a full day at the PCC with this as the nightcap - but since it was getting dark and flash photography distracts the performers, the best photo opportunities came during the fiery bits. These two captured most of what was done with fire - paraded around the set, used for rhythmic dances, blown out of the top of the set spectacularly, and finally, for the closing act, used for much higher-velocity and high-danger dances. All of which are culturally significant, mind you, not just for entertainment.

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