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No. 49 (November 1964)
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it gives a new zealander a shock to walk through Papeete, capital of Tahiti, and hear Maoris talking fluent French. They are not Maoris of course, they are native Tahitians; but from their appearance one feels they would not be out of place in any town or city in this country. Strolling through Honolulu one encounters Maoris again, in this case talking with a marked American twang. Yet these are superficial differences between Pacific peoples, imposed by contact with the world of the white man. Such differences only serve to highlight the brotherhood which exists between the people of Polynesia and the marked affinities, cultural and physical, between the inhabitants of this vast area of small islands which includes New Zealand.

Polynesian Cultural Centre

At Laie, opposite Honolulu on the island of Oahu (though not the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, this is the one to which most tourists go), the Mormon Church has completed an ambitious project known as the Polynesian Cultural Centre. It is a showplace where the heritage and customs of the Polynesia of yesterday and of today are presented in an authentic setting to the people who, six days a week, visit it in their hundreds, sometimes in their thousands. With jagged, cloud-wreathed mountain peaks as a natural backdrop, young Maoris from New Zealand, along with their first cousins from Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and also Fiji, have come together to present ancient arts, crafts, dances and building techniques.

During the summer tourist season (from July to September) the buildings in the village are peopled by islanders demonstrating and lecturing on various aspects of their culture. The Samoan exhibit features a council house, a community meeting-house (said to be the largest ever built) and a sleeping house. The Fijians have built a chief's house, a council building and a commoner's dwelling. The centrepiece of Tahiti's exhibit is a spectacular chief's house made in the shape of a perfect cone. There is also a Tahitian Queen's home, a community council house and a small fishing

Picture icon

Joseph Tengaio, left, and Mrs Meitau Mackay polish up their technique with tips from Hollywood choreographer Jack Regas at Hawaii's Polynesian Cultural Centre.

storehouse on stilts. Hawaii has a chief's house, a fisherman's home (on stilts near the artificial lake which is the centrepiece of the Cultural Centre) and other simple native homes. The Tongans have built a replica of Queen Salote's summer palace, and there are also other Tongan dwellings, with their gracefully curved roofs and rounded corners.

Miniature Maori Village

To the wandering Kiwi however, main interest centres on the miniature Maori village, entered through a carved gateway flanked by a fence of sharpened stakes. The main meeting-house is as fine a structure as could be found anywhere in New Zealand. Of the other two Maori buildings, one serves as a museum for a representative collection of Maori artifacts, while the other is a smaller carved meeting-house in which films on New Zealand are shown. On the nearby lake is a carved Maori canoe.

This last summer season, a group of young people from the Mormon Church of New Zealand were at Laie at their own expense, during the day working around the village and in the evening providing the grand finale at the Polynesian Concert staged nightly in the Cultural Centre's fine outdoor auditorium. Of the forty or so members of this group, about a third were formerly in the Te Arohanui Party which toured the United States with such success last year.

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At the invitation of John Elkington, the party's leader, and Michael Grilikhes, director of the Centre, I was able to spend the best part of two days at Laie watching and meeting the group. During the afternoons they rehearsed around the meeting-house, made pois and carried on other crafts in sight of the public and chatted freely about their own country with any who stopped to talk. In their personal contacts with tourists, who are mainly American, these young people must have provided thousands of pounds of free publicity for our country.

Spectacular Polynesian Concert

It is at night however, when the cool breezes blow in from the sea, that the Centre really comes to life. From Monday to Saturday during the season the Centre presents a spectacular review in which concert parties from Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and of course New Zealand provide their distinctive contribution. Usually, Maori students from the nearby Mormon University provide Maori items but during my visit the Te Arohanui Party was performing. The audience sits under a grand-stand-like roof, separated from the outdoor stage by an artificial stream some five yards wide. Behind the stage is a towering back-drop of natural rock laced by artificial waterfalls which can be illuminated in all colours by concealed lighting. When it is time for the ‘scene’ on stage to change, a coloured curtain of water leaps high into the air between audience and performers.

The Te Arohanui contribution was a fitting climax to a great show. There was no concession to spectacle in their repertoire but the dances and songs were enhanced (as they always are for entertainment purposes) by effective lighting, planned entrances and exits and uninterrupted performance.

In Los Angeles I stayed with the Mauriora Entertainers, now renamed ‘The Kiwis’ in deference to the American public. This young and enterprising group of entertainers—Dawn Nathan of Wellington, Ratu and his brother Whiro Tibble of Tikitiki, Kim Porou of Gisborne and Taite Kupa and Agnes Paipa of Hastings—have been performing on a modest scale, gradually becoming better known in the Hollywood entertainment world. A recording made by the group is scheduled for American release shortly. There are a number of other Maoris in business in and around Los Angeles including Eleanor Hirai, formerly of Wellington, who now runs a restaurant known as ‘The Candy Clown’.

The Field is Open

In the United States there is of course a great deal of ignorance about New Zealand. Nevertheless amongst educated Americans there is lively interest in our country. Negroes in particular ask searching questions about race relationships and the present state of Maori cultural preservation. Te Arohanui Concert Party by its personal and television appearances has stirred a glimmering of interest in Maori culture and entertainment, and the field is open for other cultural groups to follow the lead of this party. The Americans are partial to spectacular and unusual entertainment and persons experienced in the entertainment world with whom I spoke feel that properly produced presentations of Maori entertainment would be well received.

Capta'n Alan Armstrong, Te Ao Hou's record critic, is at present studying in the United States.