What you didn’t know about Polynesian culture

Portland State’s Pacific Islanders Club hosted its 14th annual Lu’au at the Peter W. Stott Center on Saturday, May 14. Around 300 attendees including PSU students, members of the local Portland community and families of participating performers joined in the event’s activities.

Lu’au translates to “taro leaf” in traditional Hawaiian dialect. It refers to a celebration or gathering in Polynesian culture.

The theme of the Lu’au was Sailing Through the Stars. As the name suggests, the event was inspired by a renowned story of Hokule’a’s voyage. Through dance and rhythm, the Pacific Islanders Club aimed to share the stories of their ancestors who navigated and travelled the ocean by relying on nature.

“People from the Pacific Islands are a minority in Oregon,” said Xylia Lydgate, one of the coordinators of the event and a PSU junior. “We wanted to create a unique avenue to connect students from the Pacific Islands to each other and to their culture.”

The Lu’au is an annual opportunity for the students and public to join in celebration of the Pacific Islanders culture. The evening was full of entertainment, food and conversation about Pacific Islander people and values.

“We just want to share our culture with the Portland community,” said Zsanrei Konohia, PSU student and treasurer of the club. “We [Pacific Islanders] hold a welcoming spirit. Everyone is welcome…We call this the aloha spirit.”

As stated in its mission statement, the role of the Pacific Islanders Club at PSU is to promote, educate and celebrate different Pacific Islander cultures by providing experiential opportunities and creating “avenues to increase and improve the communication and interaction of the university and the Pacific Islanders community.”

“Most people think of Hawaii when picturing Pacific Islands,” said Lydgate. “There is more than just Hawaii.”

The organizers of the event made an intentional effort to present all six Polynesian Islands equally in the performances. Each performance represented a culture from the different islands: Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

“The event is about seeing and understanding [PSU students’] fellow classmates,” said Krystyna Tuitele, an alumn of PSU. She has attended the annual Lu’au since 2005 with her family.

“We greet by hugging…cheek kissing each other,” Lydgate said when asked to share aspects of Polynesian culture. “In the small island where I am from, there is a close-knit family relationship and a strong sense of community.”

As suggested by Lydgate’s emphasis on the central role of community in the Pacific Island culture, the opening of the event was preceded by a short public prayer in Hawaiian.

The night began with a dinner show of live music from Uncle Wilbert who played various melodies reminiscent of the Pacific Islands. Food served was catered by Ohana Hawaiian Cafe. The dinner show was followed by various performances filling the stage with music and dance. Oregon Marshallese Community, Kyrstyna and Tuitele Family, and Toloumu and Tuitele Family were featured guests at the event.

Kava Circle—a traditional beverage ceremony—provided a chance to try the unique drink, as well as learn about the formalities from a member of the Pacific Islanders Club. Various vendors representing the local Polynesian culture shared different aspects of the culture through crafts, traditional desserts, island apparel and more.