You’ll find plenty of local color at Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center.
At the Samoan Village, a chief dressed in a loincloth and sporting a full-body tattoo mixes anthropology and comedy in his lectures. He explains his people's cooking and the ceremony in which he was initiated as a chief. He may even demonstrate fire dancing.
The Samoan chief may be the most popular attraction at the 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu's North Shore, an hour's drive from Honolulu. But he has lots of competition. There are nightly luaus, at which you can taste mahimahi and pig roasted in an underground oven, and shops galore, selling everything from gold jewelry to conch-shell trumpets. And there are six other villages where representatives from Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji, and Maori New Zealand demonstrate life in ancient and contemporary times.
The center does a remarkable job of presenting the indigenous cultures of the South Pacific. Islanders in each village show guests how to pound bark into cloth, weave baskets, string leis, and make fire from two sticks. They also share the traditions of carving, canoeing, and dance that link the far-flung archipelagoes.
Call ahead for fees. Information: (800) 367-7060, www.polynesia.com.
Photography by Catherine Karnow
This article was first published in July 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.