Hawaiian Club’s lu’au attracts many, celebrates culture

by Annika Bjornson | Staff Writer

Soft meles, leafy headbands and swinging hips brought the Whitworth community together for “A Voyage Through Polynesia.” The Hawaiian Club’s 49th annual lu’au on Fri. Mar. 16 attracted approximately 250 alumni, students, faculty, families and prospective student guests alike together for a celebration of Polynesian culture.

Attendees experienced authentic Hawaiian food, including kalua pork and sweet potatoes, in Sodexo before heading to the Field House for entertainment at 7 p.m.. The Hawaiian Club, whose official name is Nā Puʻuwai ʻo Hawaiʻi, performed nine pieces consisting of Hawaiian meles, a Samoan sasa, a Maori haka and a Maori karanga that honors loved ones who have passed on. President Beck Taylor and Rev. Dr. Forrest Buckner even joined in on a song and freshman Precious Grey performed a Samoan tauluga. In between songs and dances, Offensive Line football coach Andrew Fa’aumu, from Maui, Hawaii, served as the master of ceremonies (MC) and handed out prizes for answering Polynesian trivia questions, a popular activity with the children present.

Fa’aumu, who agreed to serve as the MC only a week prior after being approached by a club member at a football practice, expressed gratitude for the opportunity.

“For us to have the platform to showcase our culture, showcase what it means for us, is a great reminder for our kids to understand our roots and our background,” he said. “It’s also great for everyone else to see our identity. Polynesia is pretty big and we’re probably 3,000 miles away, so for us to have the opportunity to reminisce of how things were back in the day and tell stories is just a blessing for everyone.”

Co-presidents of the Hawaiian Club, seniors Tynell Ornellas and Samuel Nahulu, described the extensive preparation process for the event. Choreography, which was mostly split up between student leaders, began in December and ever since the start of Jan Term, the performers have been practicing every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Nahulu, who grew up on Oahu, Hawaii, is happy with the turnout and the recent rise in recruitment of Hawaiian students. Whereas the Hawaiian Club had begun to die down when he and his co-president arrived at Whitworth, it has since grown and brought more people to big events like the lu’au.

“It is kind of eye-opening seeing how much has changed since [Ty and I] have come here.”

Ornellas, from Maui, attributes the increasing Hawaiian enrollment to Whitworth’s Hawaiian Islands Scholarship.

“Ever since then, it’s been a tight-knit group,” she said. “It means a lot to be able to share our culture with all the people here…and also to share with people who don’t know that much about our culture.”

Freshman Naomi Heuer moved to the Tri-Cities six years ago from the Big Island of Hawaii and is now partaking in club events for the Hawaiian Club.

“Moving to the Tri-Cities was a very drastic change, because the culture was very different from Hawaii,” she said, “where […] everyone feels like family, and the Tri- Cities are a bit more individualistic, but coming to Whitworth was kind of a refresher of Hawaii because it’s that close-knit community again.”

Heuer says that Hawaiian Club events have included bowling, potlucks and going to Pres. Taylor’s house together. She brought a prospective student guest with her, who was also from Hawaii and enjoyed the authentic food and dance.

“It made my heart feel like it was at home again,” Heuer said, “and I’ve been very homesick lately so it was a very nice thing to have.”

Anyone interested in participating in future Hawaiian Club events can contact snahuluiii20@my.whitworth.edu or tornellas19@my.whitworth.edu. Next year will be the 50th annual lu’au, so Whitworth can be on the lookout for an even bigger celebration of Polynesian food, dance, music and community.