For approximately an hour before the Alumni Talent Show began, the Polynesian Cultural Center honored 18 alumni for their cultural contributions, remarkable service to the PCC and their lives of aloha by presenting each of them with the 50th Anniversary Lei Pūlama Aloha — Lei of a Living Treasure — Award, and in the case of the last recipient, a special service award.
With Cy Bridges acting as emcee, and PCC President & CEO Alfred Grace as well as Board Chairman Fraser Bullock presenting the actual awards, the Cultural Center recognized the following “Living Treasures” (please note, not all of them were able to attend the program, and may not be pictured; also, not all background information was available for this blog):
- Kumu hula, kahu and alaka’i kauhale Kamaki Kanahele, Hawaii: Raised in Nanakuli with roots extending to Niihau, Kanahele was an early PCC employee who graduated from CCH and BYU Provo. He then taught school and hula, and operated an import-export business — all in Utah, before U.S. President Gerald Ford’s administration appointed him to the Department of Education where he served as the Director of the Department for the Endowment of Arts. He continued in that position through the Carter and Reagan administrations, at which time he returned to Hawaii.
Since then he worked as an administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and was also an OHA Trustee. He is currently the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Healing Center and State Chairman, Sovereign Hawaiian Affairs (Hawaiian Homestead Association). (Kanahele was unable to attend the presentation ceremony because he was meeting with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
- Loea Kalakalai, Kapena Iosepa, Kauhale O Kahuaola David “Kawika” H. Eskaran, Hawaii: Eskaran, who was raised in Wahiawa, credits his Kamehameha School shop teacher, Wright Bowman Sr., as one of his early mentors and PCC master carver Epanaia “Uncle Barney” Christy for his influence during the 13 years he worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He is currently the Director of Special Projects for Ka Halau Nui A Hawaii Loa that is part of the BYUH Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies, and he also oversees Kahua Ola, the Hawaiian Studies malama aina garden.
Perhaps best known as one of the master carvers of the BYUH sailing canoe, Iosepa, Eskaran small carvings have been gifted to American presidents, a premier of China, the King of Tonga, president of Finland, U.S. congressmen, corporate executives and movie stars. He also personally presented several of his creations to Adnan Kashogii of Saudi Arabia.
- Loea hana kapa Dalani Kay Tanahy, Hawaii: Though she now lives in San Diego, California, Dalani worked at the PCC from 1979–80 and has since sought Hawaiian knowledge from a leading group of cultural exponents; but she is renowned in her own right for making kapa — Hawaii tapa cloth, and has founded her own business teaching people about Polynesian tapa, with a special emphasis on Hawaiian kapa.
Her work has taken her throughout Hawaii as well as to Japan, Samoa, Washington DC, and Berlin, Germany; and she recently created a number of pieces for Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina.
- Tohunga whakairo Takaputai “Taka” Mete Walker, QSM, Aotearoa: Walker, now a renowned master carver in New Zealand, was the youngest of the eight original carvers — and the last surviving one — who worked on the Polynesian Cultural Center Whare Tipuna panels. He came to Laie in 1963 as a member of Te Aroha Nui Maori Company, and to help install the panels.
Since then, Walker has completed many Maori carved houses and canoes, and he has been contracted to replaced the aging panels at the PCC.
- Creative director and Maoritanga cultural expert Tommy Taurima, Aotearoa: Taurima first came to Laie as one of the early PCC employees, and returned again in the 1980s-90s as a cultural expert in the PCC’s Islands of Aotearoa.
Since returning to New Zealand, “Uncle Tommy” has been heavily involved in teaching Maori culture to youth.
- Maori cultural expert Aunty Valetta Nepia Jeremiah, Aotearoa: Originally from the Gisborne area of New Zealand, Aunty Val first came to the Polynesian Cultural Center as a member of Te Aroha Nui Maori Company in 1963, and returned a few months later to work in the Maori Village, as a musician, singer, choreographer and night show instructor . . . until she retired two years ago. Aunty Val continues to share her love of Maoritanga with youth.
- Samoan World Fireknife Championships founder and Samoan cultural expert Pulefano Galea’i, Samoa: The Galea’i family moved from American Samoa to Laie in the 1950s, and have had a powerful cultural impact ever since. Pulefano became a famous knife dancer as a young man, spent 37 as an entertainer on the East Coast, and over 20 more years as a Polynesian Cultural Center senior manager. Now retired, he still consults at the PCC and is involved in many other cultural activities.
- “Laie Boy” and original PCC employee Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, Samoa: Eni spent part of his youth growing up in Laie, attended Church College of Hawaii and worked at the Cultural Center, graduated from BYU and earned a J.D. degree from the University of Houston and a Master of Law degree from UC Berkeley.
In addition to serving as staff counsel to the late Congressman Phillip Burton of California and chief of staff for the late Congressman Fuimaono, Hunkin also served the Government of American Samoa as Deputy Attorney General and Lt. Governor; and for the past 24 years has been the elected American Samoa congressman in Washington D.C.
- Original PCC employee Vatau Galea’i Neria, Samoa: Another member of the Galea’i family who came to Laie in the 1950s, Vatau danced in all Polynesian sections at the PCC, and eventually became the Samoan dance instructor, program coordinator and theater manager.
She left the PCC to pursue a career in education in American Samoa, where she was a teacher, counselor, vice principal and principal . . . before returning to Laie.
- Iona Teriipaia and his family came from Tahiti to Laie in the early 1970s and have shared their cultural knowledge and talents ever since. (More details to come.)
- Multi-talented Raymond Mariteragi, Tahiti: Mariteragi came from Tahiti in the mid-1960s and worked as a student in the Tahitian Village and night show. He has also been a lead guitarist and entertainer in Tahiti, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida.
He rejoined the Center as fulltime manager, working in Maintenance, as the Theater Manager, cultural islands director and he recently retired as the Village Operations Director. To show the depth of his talent, he also spent six years coaching the Kahuku High varsity boys basketball team and is known for his Tahitian cooking skills.
- Tahitian dancer extraordinaire Erena Mapuhi Pito, Tahiti: She came in the earliest days of the PCC to add her beauty and flair to Tahitian culture at the Center, where she also served as the dance instructor.
Now living in Tahiti but unable to attend the reunion, she wrote: “…I reminisce on my time there and my heart is full. My memories are so vivid as I recall ALL the joy, laughter and tears we shared. I am especially grateful for the friendships I made with so many of you. How blessed I am to have been part of the Center, this beautiful place that I called home.”
- Labor missionary, original PCC performer and former PCC Board member Kalolaine Mataele Soukop, Tonga: Kalo was one of the earliest Tongan students at CCH, where she joined Polynesian Panorama and performed in Waikiki before the Center opened. After leaving Laie, she continued her career in Waikiki, where she established a number of businesses, operated her own show, became involved in civic and Tongan cultural organizations, and spent many years serving on the PCC’s Board of Directors.
- Labor missionary and master carver Sione Tuione Pulotu, Tonga: He originally came from the small island of Pangai, Ha’apai, Tonga, to help build the Cultural Center as a labor missionary and stayed on to work at the Center, and later contract and install many cultural refinements. He said his love of carving grew from his enchantment with Hawaiian tikis, but his natural talent has led him to carve, among others, BYUH’s 57-foot traditional twin-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, Iosepa, and the 105-foot Tongan kalia-style sailing canoe, Mileniume.
- Multi-talented Melenaite “Mele” Mala’efo’ou Tovo, Tonga: After graduating from Queen Salote College in Tonga and Nasinu Teacher Training College in Fiji, Mele came to the Cultural Center over 30 years ago where she danced in the shows, assisted six Tongan Village chiefs, composed and choreographed the Tongan sections in both canoe pageants and night shows. She is currently a handicraft artisan at the Mission Complex.
- Fijan cultural expert Sereima (Nana) Damuni: Nana came with her husband, the late Emosi Damuni, and young family, who literally grew up at the PCC to the delight of many thousands of visitors. Years later she joined the Wardrobe team in the Theater Department where she became one of the “mamas” to several generations of PCC performers. (More details to come.)
- Sophia Akanisi Turaga, Fiji: Sophia, who is originally from Rotuma — a separate culture from Fiji, came to Laie in 1965. Since then she worked in the Fijian and other villages, and distinguished herself as a weaver and craft maker — even traveling on several promo tours in that capacity — until she retired as the weavers supervisor in 1998.
- The PCC President’s Special Golden Anniversary Service Award went to Tausilinu’u David Hannemann, who is originally from Samoa but served as a missionary in Hawaii. After establishing a luau business in Los Angeles, he first started working at the Center the summer before it opened as one of the first paid employees. As Operations Manager in the early years, he is responsible for creating the PCC’s luau, fashion show, canoe pageant and implementing many other innovations.
After setting the Center on a solid footing, Hannemann returned to California in 1968 to refocus on his business; but he came back to the PCC 1982 as a senior executive and once again applied his innovative leadership to operations, food services and maintenance until he retired in 1995, at which time he was called as president of the Laie Hawaii Temple.
Having been here from the beginning, Hannemann still serves voluntarily as the unofficial historian of the Polynesian Cultural Center.