Man, I just don’t know about this place. I just don’t know. Every guidebook recommends visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, that their luau is the best and most traditional, that it’s the Disneyland of Hawaii, that it’s wholesome, educational, and delightful. And on some level, it is that place–you can buy ice cream from a boat, you can be quadruple lei’d and spend an afternoon in the sun sniffing the fragrant flowers festooned about your person, you can try poi and pork cooked in an imu, you can consume drinks out of both a pineapple and a coconut (and spend more than a few minutes playing Monty Python and annoying everyone around you), you can see traditional crafting techniques, there’s a pretty high-production value show, and everyone who works there is almost creepily nice and calls you “family”.
But on the other hand, the Polynesian Cultural Center is like a weird human zoo, where you just have to be sort of vaguely brown to play at being a villager showing off “your” traditions (I saw one guy play a member of at least three cultures). It gets even more squicky when you consider that this place is run by the mormons–not only do you get a “look how savage these people were before we civilized them” vibe, but also, it’s the fault of missionaries that hula dancing was driven underground and almost lost altogether, so it’s pretty damn ironic that now they have the “most authentic” dances. None of this is more clear than in the after-dinner show “Ha: Breath of Life” which tells the story of one man’s life, birth to death, but switches what Pacific island he’s from throughout the show: even if it wasn’t intentional, the message is clear that they believe all of these cultures and peoples are interchangeable.
Ultimately, I have been waffling back and forth about how I feel about this place for more than a month. I really enjoyed seeing all of the different dances and outfits and trying a bunch of different Hawaiian food (‘enjoy’ might be a bit of a stretch when it comes to poi) and clipclopping around with a coconut like an asshole in public was fun, but at the same time, giving money to this place is fostering the same community that’s been helping to erase these cultures from history, and I can’t help but think that in that sense, the price of my enjoyment here was too steep.