Other PCC news

Experience our new ukulele shop


Perhaps no other musical instrument — except, maybe, the Hawaiian Steel Guitar — is as synonymous with Hawaii as the ukulele . . . which makes it even more appropriate that the newest addition to the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Hukilau Marketplace is our Ukulele Experience, in the Mahinalani Gift Shop.

First Hawaiians, and eventually the rest of the world, became intrigued with what is now known as the ukulele almost from the time Portuguese immigrant sugar plantation workers arrived here in 1879. They brought with them a four-string instrument played with gusto that reminded Hawaiians of a flea (uku) jumping or flying (lele) around. Even King Kalakaua loved the new ukulele, and within another 30 years Hawaiians had started sharing it with the rest of the world.

Because it’s relatively easy to learn to play basic rhythm chords that can probably accompany thousands of songs, ukuleles started showing up everywhere. Publishers printed chords in sheet music; and move stars such as Bing Crosby — who sang Sweet Leilani in the 1939 Waikiki Wedding hit — played on-screen. More recently, who can forget Elvis Presley strumming his uke in the 1961 film Blue Hawaii, or Adam Sandler singing and playing for Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates.


The Ukulele Experience Workshop at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Of course, you can learn all this and much more about ukulele history; plus, in conjunction with Kanile’a Ukulele factory of Kaneohe, even about manufacturing them as part of a fascinating new display in our Ukulele Experience shop. For example, did you know that the annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii in Honolulu has been going strong for over 50 years? That the late Iz Kamakawiwo’ole recorded his famous rendition of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World, that’s been featured in films, TV programs and commercials, in just one take?


Oh, and BTW, the statue of Laie-born Joseph Kekuku — who is recognized as the father of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar, “sits” on a bench just outside the new Ukulele Experience Shop.

Stop by, take a selfie with Kekuku, learn how to play an ukulele, for free . . . and perhaps take home one of the best Hawaii souvenirs ever. Check it out!




Change of kumu hula at PCC



Keith Awai, dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center, 1976

A fond aloha to kumu Keith: Chants, hula, gift presentations, memories and lots of laughs marked the recent retirement of PCC kumu hula [hula teacher or master] Keith Kalanikau Awai after 43 years of continuous service.

Awai, who is from Haleiwa, Oahu, came to work at the Center soon after graduating from Kamehameha School, and had been active in Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian Village, the Theater Department and wherever else he was needed ever since.

Awai, who will now focus on his halau in the Washington DC area and also in Japan, is one of the judges for the 2016 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo.



…and a welcome to our new kumu hula: Say aloha to Pomaika’i Krueger, who has rejoined the PCC’s Hawaiian Village as our new Hawaiian cultural performance specialist, which includes kumu hula duties. In his new role, he will not only work in the village, but will also help with Hawaiian performance in the PCC canoe pageant, luau and evening shows as well as other areas.


Krueger, who is from Wailuku, Maui, has fifth-generation ties to the Cultural Center through his great-great grandparents. “This great Center is in my blood,” he said, “which gave me the strength to move back from my home town on Maui to be with their legacy.”

“My grandmother, Marjorie Kekauoha, who just passed away, always told us she was the first solo hula dancer for the PCC’s evening show. Her mother, kumu Lena Guerrero, helped the Logans when they first started the PCC Hawaiian Village.”

Krueger uniki’d or earned the status of a kumu hula under Maui kumu Uluwehi Guerrero. He also studied under Maui kumu Iola Balubar and Oahu’s Sonny Ching as well as Awai while he was a student-worker in the PCC Hawaiian Village. Before graduating from next-door BYU–Hawaii in 2009 in Hawaiian Studies, Krueger served a Latter-day Saint mission in Tokyo, Japan, and speaks fluent Japanese, in addition to Hawaiian.

Before returning to the PCC, Krueger taught Hawaiian language and hula at Lahainaluna High School on Maui and had his own halau in Wailuku, which he has closed. He also continues to work several times each year with his halau in Japan, and he is considering starting another one in Laie.

“We really want to make sure we meet our own high standards and the expectations of the guests,” Krueger said, “while we share our cultural knowledge.”

Story by Mike Foley

mike_foleyMike Foley, who has worked off-and-on at the Polynesian Cultural Center since 1968, has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002, and had a long career in marketing communications and PR before that. He learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Mormon missionary before moving to Laie in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley is mostly retired now, but continues to contribute to various PCC and other media.