“In this idyllic setting, you will thrill to the romance of Island yesterdays. Delicious foods of the lū‘au will please the discriminating, Ancient Hula … native maids … weird chanting … thumping gourds … strumming ukulele … plaintive Island melodies … majestic palms … quaint grass huts.”
In 1932 George Paele Mossman opened the Lalani Hawaiian Village in Waikiki with demonstrations of traditional crafts, music and lū‘au as a way of preserving and teaching what he termed “Hawaiian lore that is fast vanishing.”
The village, conceived of as living museum, archive, school and tourist entertainment center, of 8-grass houses was erected on 1-acre and a program of classes (in Hawaiian language, hula, music, food preparation, surfing and fishing.)
For $2, the visitor received a 1-hour lecture on village life, followed by a lūʻau and a show, with performances led by the Mossman family.
Born March 28, 1891, Mossman was one of 11 children. His father was Scottish and his mother, Nahua Kealoha, was Hawaiian. George grew up fluent in Hawaiian culture. On January 21, 1910, Mossman married Rebecca G Kainapau.
The earliest written account of the life of George Mossman appeared in a Time magazine article describing a teenage Mossman’s attempt at the craft of violin making in 1908.
But it was not the violin that became Mossman’s musical instrument; Mossman turned his craftwork efforts to building ukuleles.
Mossman entered the ukulele business the year before the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition, in San Francisco. The Exposition featured Hawaiian culture of music and dance – including a new and curious instrument, the ukulele.
As an ukulele maker, Mossman was a major influence during the golden era of ukulele popularity and innovation. In 1927, he claimed to have perfected a ukulele which could be heard from half a mile away and yet still retain its clarity and tonal sweetness (he called it the Bell Tone.)
By 1933, he suspended the manufacture of ukuleles and devoted his time to Lalani Village. Lalani Village was designed to look and feel like an ancient Hawaiian community, one that had existed before western contact and long before the development of Waikiki as a visitor destination.
Lalani Village was the first of its kind and “probably the first ‘Hawaiian cultural center’” ever “for what (Mossman) hoped would be a great cultural awakening”. (Kealoha)
The Village, situated at the corner of Kalākaua and Paoakalani Streets (where the family was residing and now is the present site of the Waikiki Beach Marriott,) conducted hula and musical performances, featuring the entire Mossman family dressed in the fashion of the ancient aliʻi; Mossman himself in a loincloth and feather cape.
The family operation included every member of Mossman’s immediate family: his wife, Emma; several sons; and three daughters: Leilani, Piʻilani and Pualani.
Pualani was known for her “Volcano hula” dance, the highlight of the show. She would dance alone on a raised platform with another performer blowing fire and lighting a model of a volcano. (Pualani later performed at the Hawaiian Room in the Hotel Lexington.)
It was “called the last stronghold of real Hawaiian culture. It is encircled by a high wail and every day a cross-section of life as lived by Hawaiians 200 years ago is reenacted. There are grass huts for the men and grass huts for the women.”
“The native dances, the language, the customs are taught and preserved. There is a heiau (temple), and an imu (underground oven) where pigs are roasted.”
“Guides take you from point to point, lecturing on a picturesque form of living that has practically disappeared. It is Mossman’s idea to a preserve this culture through education. (The News, Frederick Maryland, August 11, 1938)
In 1934 the hula teachers, kapa makers, and canoe builders were joined by the 87-year-old Kuluwaimaka, who became a resident of the village; Kuluwaimaka was court chanter for the King David Kalākaua.
There were also afternoon shows targeting the regularly arriving ocean liner passengers, where a presumably less elegant show that could be enjoyed for a mere 50 cents. Also, for those who were residents or staying for a while, 40 hula lessons cost $10. Ukulele and language lessons were also available.
The Lalani village provided a restaurant, Lalani’s Poi Inn, where the visitors would adventure and where the kamaʻāina would savor genuine tradition.
A Lalani Village was considered for New York, as well. An August 24, 1938 newspaper article noted, “Yes, I like this. It will do. I don’t know just where it will be, but New York is the right place for it.” (Mossman quoted in the Free Lance-Star after a driving and aerial tour of Manhattan.)
During World War II, the military took over the property and used it for army bathhouses and a post exchange. The Mossmans finally reopened the village in 1946, and it stayed open until 1955 (the year Mossman died.) (Lots of information here is from Imada, Tucker, Desmond, Reynolds and King.)
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