In March 1865, Brigham Young (President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877,) in a letter to King Kamehameha V, requested permission to locate an agricultural colony in Lāʻie. The king granted his request.
That year, Mormon missionaries (Francis Asbury Hammond and George Nebeker) purchased about 6,000-acres of the ahupuaʻa of Lāʻiewai to Lāʻiemaloʻo (in Koʻolauloa) from Mr. Thomas T Dougherty for the Mormon Church. The missionaries hoped to create a gathering place for converts to their faith to settle in.
On April 5, 1882, King Kalākaua visited the village of Lāʻie as guest of honor for the ceremonial placement of four cornerstones for a new chapel being built by the Mormons.
The chapel remained until 1915 when the Hawaiʻi Temple was started and the chapel was moved. Unfortunately, the historic chapel burned down during renovations on July 11, 1940.
1945 saw the end of World War II. With the end came the return of the simple island life.
To replace the church they needed to raise funds. After a few unsuccessful attempts at fundraising, the decision was made in 1947 to pull together a hukilau as a fundraising event. (PCC)
Hukilau (Huki = pull; lau = leaves, specifically, ki (ti) leaves) is a community fishing technique with long ropes, with dried ti leaves attached to frighten the fish.
The net was taken out and surrounds fish out in the water; then, the ends of the net are pulled into shore, corralling the fish. The fish are either caught in the nets or picked up by hand. This operation in the old days brought together men, women and children of the whole community. (Maly)
A well-known expert fisherman, Hamana Kalili supplied the nets for fishing. (Kalili is credited for starting the ‘shaka’ hand sign (but that is the subject of another story.))
Beatrice Ayer Patton (Mrs. George S Patton – her husband was stationed on Oʻahu during the mid-1920s) described Kalili as “a magnificent example of the pure Hawaiian. A man in his sixties, with white hair and a deeply carven face, he had the body and reactions of a teenager. He lived and fished on the windward side of the island”. (Patton-Totten)
“… they would go out in the ocean, in a semicircle and pull the nets to shore, and that was the hukilau, part of it. After the fish was all caught and so on, then they would go to the luau part. And the luau, as you know, is a place where you can have lots of food, and have lots of entertainment.” (Roland Maʻiola “Ahi” Logan; Kepa Maly)
January 31, 1948, members of the Lāʻie Ward started the hukilau. (PCC) A $5 fee was charged to enjoy the hukilau, food and hula show. Two hundred and fifty people arrived for the first fundraiser and the church raised $1,250.
Jack Owens enjoyed this Hukilau. That night, suffering sunburn, aches and pains, he was inspired to write this song. Introduced publicly at a Methodist lūʻau in Honolulu, it became an instant hit. (Our Honolulu, Bob Krauss, Advertiser, April, 1998)
“So that became the Church fund raiser. After the success of the first one. That was done. … Hukilau gave the people of Lāʻie the impact of economic growth. Next thing you knew, the ladies went into making crafts, the children were making coconut hats … the Hukilau was something that strengthened the people in the community.” (Logan; Maly)
During that time, it was one of the most popular visitor attractions. To actually pull in the hukilau nets, feast on the lau lau and watch as the ʻama ʻama went swimming by was truly a Hawaiian activity. (PCC) (The Hukilau continued to 1971.)
In 1959 students and faculty at the Church College of Hawaiʻi (BYU-Hawaiʻi) organized the “Polynesian Institute” (later renamed “Polynesian Panorama”) and took the show on the road. Students performed first at the International Market Place, then put on larger performances in the Kaiser Hawaiian Dome in Waikīkī.
Two years of shuttling Church College students back and forth to Waikīkī for performances convinced decision-makers that a spirited, tourist-oriented Polynesian revue with a student cast was definitely marketable.
And although some argued that Lāʻie was too far from Honolulu, others insisted that the success of the hukilau demonstrated that they could draw audiences large enough to make the venture profitable. (Webb) Thus, the Polynesian Cultural Center was born.