Poly­ne­sian em­brace

A visit to this beau­ti­ful ar­chi­pel­ago in the Cen­tral Pa­cific means get­ting a taste of the cul­ture that might make you think of the movie Moana.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By EVELYN LEN star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

HAWAII, in many ways, felt like home.

When I vis­ited in late June, it was very warm, with tem­per­a­tures of be­tween 23°C (at night) and 30°C (day time). Only, it was much windier, and wasn’t as hu­mid as Malaysia.

The veg­e­ta­tion was lush and ver­dant, too.

The hi­bis­cus (Malaysia’s na­tional flower) is com­monly found here. One unique va­ri­ety goes by these names: Sea/Beach Hi­bis­cus, the Hau, or “rain­bow flow­ers”. They change colour as the day wears on, from yel­low in the morn­ing, to red or or­ange by late af­ter­noon.

On this me­dia trip spon­sored by AirAsia X and Hawaii Tourism Southeast Asia, our group vis­ited Iolani Palace – the only royal palace on US soil – built by King David Kalakaua in 1882 and re­stored to its orig­i­nal splen­dour in the 1970s.

We learnt that Hawaii was a king­dom be­fore it was an­nexed to the United States in 1898, af­ter its last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani (King Kalakaua’s sis­ter), was over­thrown by a group of busi­ness­men.

Be­fore we en­tered the palace, we all had to put on shoe cov­ers to avoid scratch­ing the palace floors with our shoes. In­side, we were im­pressed by how re­splen­dent the place was.

Kainoa Daines, from the O’ahu Vis­i­tors Bureau, showed us around the palace and re­galed us with anecdotes (“King Kalakaua’s favourite food was ice cream ... it was a luxury in those days”) and sto­ries of grand balls that used to take place there.

The Throne Room con­tains some repli­cas of gor­geous gowns made with pea­cock feath­ers, that the queen used to wear. Pea­cock feath­ers were also used in the kahili (posts on ei­ther side of the thrones). Pea­cocks rep­re­sented roy­alty, and were be­lieved to be able to fly to the heav­ens.

The Gold Room was where the royal fam­ily spent their leisure time lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. On dis­play here is the mu­sic score for Aloha Oe, a song com­posed by the queen dur­ing her im­pris­on­ment in 1895. She was a gifted mu­si­cian and com­poser. And the song be­came Hawaii’s un­of­fi­cial an­them.

The king was a man ahead of his time; he had a tele­phone in­stalled and brought elec­tric­ity to the palace be­fore it was even avail­able in the White House.

The Quilt Room con­tains a quilt cre­ated by Lili’uokalani dur­ing her im­pris­on­ment. The in­di­vid­ual pan­els of the quilt tell the story of her house ar­rest.

Poly­ne­sian soul

We got a bet­ter pic­ture of Hawai­ian cul­ture at the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tural Cen­ter which show­cases the “vil­lages” of Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Mar­que­sas. There was just enough time for us to visit two.

At the Samoan vil­lage, the head­man Kap and his peo­ple had the au­di­ence in stitches with their an­tics, from climb­ing co­conut trees (and mon­key­ing around while up there) and twirling fire knives to por­tray­ing the role of each mem­ber of the ohana (fam­ily) in an ex­ag­ger­ated, com­i­cal way.

Vis­i­tors had the chance to learn how to make a fire us­ing sticks (which re­ally wasn’t easy at all!), and weave toy fish us­ing co­conut leaves.

Over at the Tongan vil­lage, we watched a rous­ing drum per­for­mance and a demon­stra­tion of how the peo­ple drink out of huge conch shells. What fol­lowed was a rip-roar­ing (and hi­lar­i­ous) cul­ture fa­mil­iari­sa­tion ses­sion in­volv­ing cho­sen mem­bers of the au­di­ence and the Tongan vil­lagers.

To round up our quick tour of the vil­lages, we rode in a Poly­ne­sian ca­noe rowed by a friendly lo­cal who dou­bled as a guide. As we passed by the dif­fer­ent vil­lages, he prompted us to shout out “Hello” in the na­tive tongues: Ka Oha (Mar­que­sas), Malo e lelei (Tonga), Talofa (Samoa), la Orana (Tahiti), Kia Ora (Aotearoa), and Bula Vi­naka (Fiji).

We also saw an early mis­sion home, and learnt that the Protes­tant mis­sion­ar­ies had brought the English lan­guage to the Hawai­ian is­lands in the 1800s.

The night show is a must for vis­i­tors. Ha, The Breath Of Life isa re­mark­able pro­duc­tion that of­fers in­sight into the Poly­ne­sian life­style. It fea­tures over 100 per­form­ers, jaw-drop­ping props and spe­cial ef­fects, pow­er­ful drum­ming, amaz­ing chore­og­ra­phy, and dare­devil fire-knife per­for­mances.

Cap­ping the last night of our stay in Hawaii was a marvel­lous fire­works dis­play and a beau­ti­ful sunset. It was a great way to end a short and sweet trip.

This trip was made pos­si­ble by AirAsia X, in part­ner­ship with Hawaii Tourism Southeast Asia. AirAsia X flies from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu, via Osaka, four times a week. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www.airasia.com and www.go­hawaii.com.

A tour by ca­noe is a re­lax­ing way of see­ing the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tural Cen­ter. — Pho­tos: AirAsia

— EVELYN LEN/The Star

In Iolani Palace, the Gold Room was where the Hawai­ian royal fam­ily spent their leisure time lis­ten­ing to mu­sic.

Repli­cas of Queen Lili’uokalani’s regal gowns, one with pea­cock feath­ers, on dis­play at Iolani Palace.

Iolani Palace is the only royal palace on US soil.

There are dif­fer­ent ‘vil­lages’ that house the dif­fer­ent cul­tures at the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tural Cen­ter.

This grand stair­case in Iolani Palace is made of solid koa wood.

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