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Sunday, 13 August 2017 | MYT 6:01 AM

Embracing the Polynesian culture of Hawaii

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

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.


Iolani Palace is the only royal palace on US soil.

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.


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

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.

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.


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

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.


A visitor to the Polynesian Cultural Center trying to make a fire. Its not as easy as it looks. 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 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 is a 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 and