The Purposes and Blessings of the Polynesian Cultural Center


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

September 25, 2003
Elder Lanier Britsch
Historian, Author

My objective today is to speak about the purposes and importance of the Polynesian Cultural Center and to share my feelings about it as a spiritual force in our lives and in the world. The history of the Polynesian Cultural Center is closely bound to the history of Brigham Young University-Hawai'i. The principle reason for the establishment of the PCC was to provide employment for students at CCH/BYUH. A second purpose was to provide employment for many faithful Church members here in our North Shore community. And a third reason was to preserve the cultures, arts, and crafts of Polynesia. A fourth very important purpose was to serve as a subtle missionary for the Lord's Church. The Lord created this university through the instrumentality of his servant and prophet, David O. McKay. The Lord also provided employment for approximately 700 students at all times through the same prophet. Both institutions are here to fulfill the Lord's injunction, saying, " I, the Lord, am well pleased that there should be a school in Zion. . . . " (D&C 97:3.) David O. McKay is personally responsible for the existence of the PCC. It remains a First Presidency project to this day. That is, the president and CEO of the PCC reports to a board of directors and then directly to the President of the Church. There is no other commercial entity in the Church quite like it.

That said, how is it doing? Is the PCC a worthy sister to BYU-Hawai'i?  Is it meeting the spiritual, educational, and temporal purposes for which it was founded?  Occasionally I have had colleagues ask if it is appropriate for an institution of higher learning to be joined so closely with a "theme park." My answer is, yes! I believe the Polynesian Cultural Center is an equal sister to BYU-Hawai'i . It carries out its purposes somewhat differently than BYUH does, but it fulfills the Lord's commands regarding His schools in Zion all the same.

The relationship between the PCC and BYU-Hawai'i is the epitome, the very definition of synergy. The sum of the two is greater than the individual parts. This has been true since the PCC was founded. Let me illustrate this point.

Through the history of the PCC every CCH/BYU-Hawai'i president has played either an official role as a member of the board of directors or an ex-officio role of some important kind. In 1991, BYU-Hawai'i academic vice president Eric B. Shumway served as acting president and general manager of the PCC for four months. BYUH advancement vice president Napua Baker now serves on the PCC board of directors. Since the early 1980s the administrative offices of both entities have been situated in the Lorenzo Snow Administration Building, making communications across the foyer very easy.

Contributions of knowledge have passed freely from both sides of the fence that runs between the campus and the Center. I could spend much time telling you about the relationship between the Institute for Polynesian Studies (now called the Pacific Institute) on the BYUH side and the PCC. Tremendous good has come of that relationship. Beyond that, CCH/BYU-Hawai'i faculty have shared their historical, musical, religious, linguistic, political, anthropological and other knowledge with the Center on innumerable occasions. Today the sharing continues as cultural experts from the PCC teach courses in Hawaiian language and Pacific cultures. Although building the magnificent double-hulled canoe Iosepa was primarily a BYU-Hawai'i project, Hawaiian culture experts and many others from the PCC participated regularly in its creation.

BYUH and PCC have cooperated on other academic endeavors. For example, since the 1980s ten young managers a year from the People's Republic of China, now totaling 138 participants, have participated in the Asian Executive Management Training Program that includes learning experiences on both campuses. At the PCC they receive on-the-job training in many management responsibilities and situations. At BYUH they attend business, religion, and other courses. On conclusion of their training they receive a certificate from both institutions. The PCC funds the program as a public relations goodwill effort in the People's Republic of China.

Another example of BYUH/PCC academic cooperation is that BYUH students regularly do internships at the PCC. The PCC benefits from the intelligent services of the interns and the interns benefit from their pay and from what they learn on the job.

Both entities share their facilities for special occasions. Over the years, opening university family socials and year-ending events have been held in PCC restaurant, fale, or luau facilities. BYUH athletic teams frequently have their team photographs taken in the Center. Likewise, on many occasions PCC-sponsored events have been held in the Cannon Activities Center or elsewhere on campus. When PCC president Lester W. B. Moore was given chiefly titles from the king of Tonga and the government of Samoa, those events took place outdoors on the grounds of BYU-Hawai'i .

In the public relations realm, PCC and BYUH have done many things together. They work together regularly to host visitors to both entities. While the Sterling Scholar competition was being held here, they worked together to provide venues, judges, food, and prize money. On another front the PCC "promo team" that advertises in Waikiki and around the world not only places the PCC before the public but BYU-Hawai'i as well.

Probably the most important cooperation relates to serving the needs of students. As we have said before, the primary purpose of the PCC is to provide employment and scholarships for BYUH students. The focus is on students from the Pacific, but now the mission includes students from Asia and elsewhere as well. Since the early days of the Center, PCC staff members have visited the countries of the South Pacific to recruit students who have musical and dance talent. Most dancers at the PCC are students. The show can only go on if qualified performers are either recruited or trained. Many of our dancers have learned their art at the PCC. Others have perfected talents they had already developed. But not all Polynesian students are recruited to perform. Many provide other important services to receive their financial support. A multitude of jobs have to be performed to keep an institution as large and complex as this one running well. Students prepare food, clean facilities, repair electrical installations, mow lawns, prune bushes and trees, sell gifts and mementos, take photos, drive buses, sell tickets, guide our guests through the Center, push canoes, and on and on.

Teams of recruiter-evaluators from both institutions visit the target countries to select students who are qualified to participate in the IWES (International Work Experience Scholarship) program. Students who meet all academic and other standards are admitted into BYUH. The system is quite remarkable. They are given a job and work nineteen hours a week. The program pays their tuition, books, room and board, and a little spending money. If the students keep their part of the bargain they will be out of debt at the end of the semester and ready to continue the same arrangement the next semester, and so on until graduation.

The shared dreams of the founders of the Polynesian Cultural Center have been realized beyond their most urgent hopes. Every year over 700 students from BYUH work at the Center. Since 1963 over 13,000 students have worked at the PCC. They come from all over the world, not from Polynesia alone. They all have need for financial assistance and they get it. Student wages in 2002 amounted to $4. 4 million. Annually the PCC pays $1. 3 million in land and office rent to BYUH. These funds are of course available to enhance the educational experiences of all students. In this way, since 1963, PCC has provided over $140 million in support to BYU-Hawai'i and its students. But that's not all. The PCC benefits many other businesses and suppliers through millions of dollars spent on construction, supplies, motor pool, food, arts and crafts, and a multitude of other items that are necessary to keep the PCC operating.

The PCC also provides annual salaries and benefits of over $15 million to full-time workers at the Center, plus excise and other taxes that benefit the state. These fine fulltime employees provide the continuing foundation, the ballast for the PCC, much like the faculty at BYUH. They have the knowledge and cultural expertise, and the professional know how (accounting, marketing, mechanical, engineering, botanical, artisanship" weavers, tapa makers" etc. ) to not only manage and continue what is happening at the Center, but also to train and educate student workers at the Center. It takes only a quick calculation to realize that the PCC is sending over $20 million into the economy of the North Shore and elsewhere in Oahu every year. Those dollars come from outside Laie and primarily from outside the Church. Unlike the tithing dollars that are used to provide over 80% of BYU-Hawai'i students" education, these are new dollars, virtually all of which are tithed by our full-time workers and which make a new contribution to the tithing funds of the Church. Dollars are most useful when they are spent. The financial benefits of the PCC to our community, direct and indirect, are tremendous.

Returning to the synergy theme, in 2003, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave permission to the PCC to become a fund raising organization. Now, the two institutions are cooperating in the quest to raise an endowment for not only the university (which has been fund raising for many years) but also for the PCC. Their combined efforts will exceed that which either could accomplish alone. As President Eric B. Shumway of BYUH averred: " These two institutions truly are joined at the heart."

Since I left graduate school in 1966, I have only had one employer, Brigham Young University. My life has been filled with spiritual experiences, many of which would be highlights in anyone's life. I have attended hundreds of campus devotionals. But never in my life have I been more consistently spiritually fed than in the devotionals and prayer meetings I attend each morning in the corporate offices of the PCC. I'm not saying the brief talks and stories we share are on the same level as General Conference or university-wide devotionals, but my soul is nourished every day as we join in song, hear encouraging and inspiring words, and unite in prayer. The happy fact is that since the days before the Center opened its doors to the public on October 12, 1963, workers in every department of the PCC have always held devotionals at the beginning of their work day. The labor missionaries who built CCH and PCC always started their day with prayer. The performers in the original Night Show held devotionals and had prayer before every rehearsal and performance. They still do.

Groundskeepers gather early in the morning, before I am even out of bed, to pray for protection for their days' work. Does it matter?  Yes. A few months ago the large banyan tree, after which the Banyan Tree Snack Bar is named, fell right over. One of our good workers had been standing right in its path only moments before. Fortunately, he was asked to go for a piece of equipment and had left the area. He would have been crushed. The concrete beneath the tree was smashed to pieces. I believe he was spared because his work group had prayed for safety and protection.

In morning devotionals we learn of wonderful personal experiences that our co-workers enjoy. For example, only a few weeks ago John Muaina shared a story that affirms the worth and influence of the PCC in combination with BYUH. John is senior vice president over Human Resources. In that capacity he coordinates the Asian Executive Management Training Program for interns from the People's Republic of China. Not long ago he was driving two interns who had completed their programs to the airport to return home. This is the way he related the incident:

I asked my wife to drive. I always do that, so I can turn around and talk to them. I asked both Lu Lu and Cindy, "Tell me the greatest thing that you learned that you'll take back to your organization." They both kind of looked at each other, and Lu Lu said, "Let me say some things, and Cindy can say others if I don't cover it. I can say truthfully that we have learned many, many principles about international business, about computers, about hospitality, hotels, and we've learned so much valuable information." Then she paused, and said, "But the greatest thing . . . that we've learned here is the love of the people here at BYU-Hawai'i and the Polynesian Cultural Center. They are so caring and giving and the thing that we will take back with us and treasure, more than just the knowledge, is how one should love their family. Since being here I really started to miss my family because I saw how important it was to the members here and I missed my child, my husband. In fact, three months after I arrived here I called my husband and I was so excited to talk to him on the telephone. I was telling him about the school and he was asking me, 'What classes?' and things of that sort. During the conversation I just felt that I wanted to tell him, 'Honey, I love you.' But he didn't acknowledge what I said, he just kept talking and asked me, 'Well, what do you do in these classes, and do you enjoy your roommate and the school?' And I said, I do. The second time I said, 'Honey, I love you.' He paused, and continued on as if he didn't even hear what I said to him. Then he started asking more questions. And the third time I said, 'Honey, I love you.' And he paused and he said, 'What are they teaching you at that school?' I said, in amazement, 'What do you mean, what are they teaching me?' He said, 'You said that three times now. What are you learning over there?' She said, 'I have learned so many valuable things over here, but I've learned how much you mean to me and how much my family means to me and I can't wait to come home and see you.' Then he paused and said, 'If that's what you're learning over there, Lu Lu, I wish I was in school over there at your BYU.' She said, 'You can't believe what I've learned.' As we hung up I said one more time, 'Honey, I love you.' And my husband said, 'I love you.' That is the first time I ever heard my husband say that to me."

Brother Muaina continued: As she was sharing this with me, Lu Lu was crying, Cindy was crying, my wife was crying, and I was crying. All four of us in the car. Cindy mentioned the same type of thing happened with her. She said, "I can't wait to get home, hug my husband, hug my parents, tell my parents how much I love them. That's what we've learned here. "

These are the kinds of things we hear in devotionals and prayer meetings. In the 88th Section we are told to "establish a house of prayer." Unbeknown to our guests at the PCC and perhaps even to many at BYU-Hawai'i, the Center is "a house of prayer."

Day by day we live in the spirit of the place. I want to share a few words from my good friend Elder Wayland Calkins, a Church Service Missionary who is presently serving at the PCC. He expressed sensitively what most of us who work at the PCC feel:

It's almost a spiritual experience to work here. You feel something. How do I put it into words?I have worked around construction all my life and it doesn't feel like this. It is a feeling, an intangible kind of spirit here. . . . I am not a terribly emotional person, but I don't think a week passes by and sometimes two or three times a week, something happens and I kind of well up inside. The tears kind of well up and I get choked up and that's a new thing for me. Oh, I have felt these things before, but not like here. Team meetings, the devotionals, you will see something take place in here, you will talk to people, and you just kind of well up inside. I think those things are something that you feel more than you can put into words. (Wayland Calkins, Church Service Missionary, construction supervisor, from California)

Something I did not know until I started working at the PCC is how passionate the employees are about the place. Through the years no one has become rich while working at the PCC. Many of our 'ohana of fulltime employees have been invited to work at other glamorous locations at better pay. But most have stayed, many for a full career from first employment to retirement. For example, Keith Awai, manager of the Hawaiian village, has had many offers to leave, but has stayed on at the PCC. He told me,

A lot of former employees have not realized how much the Center has done for them until they haven't had it. Several times I have been offered a job at Disney. . . , but every time I make it a matter of prayer, it's always stay here . . . to teach the culture of my people. . . .

(Keith Kalanikau AwaI'Manager, Hawaiian Village, longtime employee, Kumu Hula of the Halau Kawaiuilani ("The Water That Has the Spirit")).

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Center's future was severely threatened. Fulltime employees all took a ten percent pay cut (managers sacrificed much more) to keep the Center open. Their passionate love for and loyalty to the Center is one of the major reasons for its enduring success. More than one of the team has expressed strong feelings, stating, "This is my home, my second home." (Heilala M. Niu, Cultural Demonstrator in the Marquesan Village, PCC employee since 1988,from Tonga).

To gain a better understanding of what the PCC means to its present and past employees I talked with a number of them. The reasons why they love and appreciate the Center vary. Former employee, Tuione Pulotu, the master carver and artist who did the Iosepa and the canoe models in the PCC entrance, expressed his feelings this way:

Well, the PCC makes me what I am today. I owe it to PCC. If it were not for the revelation on PCC [the inspiration that led to its founding], and for PCC to be built, I would not be here today. I would be a different person if I grew up in Tonga and stayed in Tonga. But this thing changed my whole life, made me what I am today. . . . If PCC asks me to do something for them, and they don't have money to pay for it, sure I am going to do it. I have time. I can do that. I asked a manager, "Do you guys give a lot of gifts away? For that kind of stuff come see me. I will make it for you guys. If you can pay me for it, that's fine. But I am PCC. It is part of my life." (Tuione Pulotu, Master Carver)

As a labor missionary from Tonga he operated the bulldozer that cleared the land where the PCC now stands.

Dossi Gali spoke of other reasons for her love for the Center. She said:

I love my job. I love sharing with the people, but also because of the standards of the [Mormon] Church. You know, I go home to the Big Island and it's different. . . . I always look forward to coming back because I know I'm coming back to a good place with good people because we have the same standards. . . . I like it here because we have the gospel. It's our foundation of the Center. (Dossi Gali, Assistant Manager Hawaiian Village, PCC employee since 1983)

Sela Feinga asks, What does the PCC mean to me?To me it's like the Missionary Training Center; it's the place of the Lord. Every time I think of PCC I am excited to come here because this is the place of the Lord. I walk in the cloud; I run in the cloud, I know inside of me, I am walking in the cloud of the Lord. That's what it means to me. In that way I will never be tired of this place. Everything I do here I know I am doing it for the Lord, and that makes me feel enthusiastic every single day. No matter what hours I put in, I don't care. I just enjoy it. I love my job, and I love this place. (Sela Feinga, Manager, Handicrafts. Born in Tonga)

Logo Apelu, vice president for operations, stressed the importance of the PCC as a center of education when he said:

The PCC is a learning center for leaders of the Pacific. Many of us who left the islands never had any leadership training, but we have gained it here at the Center. That is why I love the Center. I have learned more from the Center than my Master's of Education degree program. (Logo Apelu, Vice President of Operations, former Director of Education, LDS Church Schools in Samoa)

Recently BYUH academic vice president Keith Roberts shared an experience he had at American Samoa Junior College. While in a meeting with four or five top administrators of that institution, they told him that each of them had danced in the Night Show at the PCC. Now they were education leaders in American Samoa. I'm sure the complete list of CCH/BYUH alumni who worked their way through school at the PCC and are now holding important positions in the Church, in their communities, and in education and business would be very long and extremely impressive.

For Cambodian student Sophornn Touch, known as "Chan," the PCC represents security in a troubled world. He said,

. . . the PCC is many things. It is a peaceful place. Everybody who comes here feels the spirit of aloha. They enjoy their time here. They are satisfied. They are laughing, they are joking around, they are happy. Everybody comes from different countries around the world to see one idea, happiness, peacefulness, joy, that's what the PCC means to me.

Also, this place is kind of my home, my shelter. . . . I feel comfortable in this place. I don't feel scared or afraid and I don't feel prejudice. We are all brothers and sisters when we come to this place. And of course this place provides me the opportunity for my education. I work here to support myself so I can go to school. So, it means so much to me. (Sophornn "Chan" Touch, Student from Cambodia majoring in Political Science at BYU Hawaii)

The testimonials of many other PCC employees are equally meaningful.

I wish to turn next to the fourth purpose of the PCC, missionary work. At the PCC our desire is to share the spirit of the gospel through the spirit of aloha. From what I have seen, I strongly believe the workers have done a very good job. The least subtle thing we do is invite guests to visit the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors Center. Frequently I have had quests express real eagerness to take the tour.

The Laie Temple Visitors Center follows only the Temple Square Mission in number of referrals each year. Most of the guests at our Temple Visitors Center arrive there on trams and buses from the PCC. Full-time missionary sisters host them on the way and at the Center. In 2001, the total number of visitors from the PCC who visited the Temple Visitors Center was 30,132, of whom the referral count was 2,542, or 8%. During the summer months last year, of 7,814 visitors 706 requested more information, videos, Book of Mormons, and the discussions. The figure we wish we had is how many people have joined the Church as a result of this experience. There is no way to get this figure, but we believe it is significant.

There is a special spirit at the PCC. We call it the spirit of aloha. We who understand know that the spirit of aloha is the Holy Spirit. It is most comfortable in places where it is invited by the righteousness of the people who are there. True aloha is like a tender flower, it must be handled and nurtured with care. It is a warm welcome greeting. A gentle kiss on the cheek. It is the hope to make someone else happy. It is the commitment of everlasting love. It is a wish for someone's welfare and safety. It is the spirit of the Good Samaritan. It is compassion for those less fortunate. It is charity for those in need. It is a sincere desire to help. It is giving help or means with no expectation of repayment. It is including those who might be left out. It is loving our neighbor more than ourselves. It is the Spirit of good that comes from Heaven and permeates all human hearts. It is farewell with a prayer for a sweet reunion. It is the light within that says, "You are my brother. You are my sister. I honor and respect you for who you are, a child of God. Welcome to my life, my world. Aloha." This is what we who work at the Center feel; it is what we hope to share with each other and with every guest who spends a few hours with us.

In closing I want to share a special moment in the history of these united institutions. 1966 was very important in the history of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Since the opening of the PCC in 1963 great efforts had been expended to make the Center well known. These efforts seemed to lead to a grand pinnacle with a mainland tour of the Night Show in late summer of 1966. The PCC student performers toured Southern California and Utah. The show, titled, "Festival Polynesia," consisted of 175 performers.

After months of dedicated rehearsing the two-week tour began at Hollywood Bowl on August 31, 1966. Almost one hundred thousand people attended the four performances, the largest audiences of the season. Newspaper and magazine reviews were nearly ecstatic. Robert Riley, music critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote, "In the 50 years of its history, it is unlikely that Hollywood Bowl has ever been the scene of a more uniquely beautiful spectacle than 'Festival Polynesia,'" and that the show was providing "nights of never-to-be-forgotten gifts on Los Angeles. " One critic said the presentation of the fire-knife dancers was "utterly spectacular, with flaming torches tossed about recklessly and men with seemingly asbestos skins rivaling Indian fakirs in their disregard of danger as they leaped over the flames and smothered them with their bare bodies." Portions of "Festival Polynesia" were taped during the day at the Bowl for showing on September 18, on the "Ed Sullivan Show. " For the PCC this was all a smashing success.

For a group of Latter-day Saint students from the islands the tour would have been disappointing without a visit to the center of the Mormon Church. After a train trip to Salt Lake City, the group performed six times at the Highland High School auditorium. The performances were extremely well accepted, but for the Church College of Hawai'i students, their visit in his office at Church headquarters with President David O. McKay, the founder of the College and the PCC, and again the next day with him at his home in Huntsville, Utah, were the highlights of the tour. Ninety-two-year-old President McKay and his wife, Emma Rae, greeted the Polynesian students on the front porch of their country home. Having visited in 1921 all of the island groups represented, and again during the 1950s, President McKay had a special attachment and affection for the farewell songs of the islands. Among the farewell songs sung that day in Huntsville was Samoa's "Goodbye My Feleni," goodbye my friend. The words, "Oh, I never will forget you," touched every heart. As Craig Ferre wrote, "Having never lost sight of his goals for the Polynesians, [President] McKay had been instrumental in making possible, in a sense, for them to be there. Now at first hand he was able to witness the fruits of his labors. And surely all those assembled there never forgot that experience. As they were about to leave, President McKay told them: 'This is marvelous. I never will forget you. You make this spot more hallowed.'" [i]There are a few people in the audience today who were in Huntsville, Utah, that day so long ago. They built the PCC and Church College on President McKay's love, tenaciousness, and vision. Now the task for us is to remain true to the original intent and purposes of these great institutions. That we may do so is my prayer in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.