Royalty meets village culture in Hawaii

A relaxing way to get around the Polynesian Cultural Center is to join a canoe tour.
A relaxing way to get around the Polynesian Cultural Center is to join a canoe tour.PHOTO: AIRASIA

Visit the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on American soil, and see the Polynesian Cultural Center, a showcase of village culture and practices

 (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Hawaii, in many ways, felt like home.

When I visited in late June, it was very warm, with temperatures of between 23 deg C (at night) and 30 deg C (in the day). Only, it was much windier and was not 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.

The Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on American soil, was built by King David Kalakaua in 1882 and restored to its original splendour in the 1970s.

I 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.

Iolani Palace is the only royal palace on American soil.

Before our group entered the palace, we had to put on shoe covers to avoid scratching the palace floors. Inside, we were impressed by how resplendent the place was. Kainoa Daines, from the O’ahu Visitors Bureau, showed us around the building 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 took place there.

Replicas of Queen Lili’uokalani’s regal gowns on display at Iolani Palace. PHOTO: AIRASIA

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.

Left: King David Kalakaua was a man ahead of his time. Right: A portrait of Queen Lili'uokalani. PHOTOS: THE STAR/EVELN LEN

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 Queen Lili’uokalani during her imprisonment. The individual panels of the quilt tell the story of her house arrest.

Polynesian soul

We had 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) to twirling fire knives to portraying the role of each member of the ohana (family) in an exaggerated, comical way. 

The Polynesian Cultural Center is divided into different "villages", which house various Polynesian cultures, from Samoan to Tahitian. PHOTO: AIRASIA

Visitors could learn how to make a fire using sticks or how to weave handicraft fish using coconut leaves. Over at the Tongan village, we watched a rousing drum performance and a demonstration on how to drink out of huge conch shells. What followed was a rip-roaring culture familiarisation session involving chosen members of the audience and the Tongan villagers.

A visitor to the Polynesian Cultural Center trying to make a fire. PHOTO: THE STAR/EVELYN LEN

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 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 is a remarkable production that offers insight into the Polynesian lifestyle. It features more than 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.