Pacific | Hawai'i

Māori ‘home away from home’ in Hawaii celebrates 60 years

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii is celebrating 60 years in operation, and many alumni from Aotearoa are returning for the festivities.

Tyrell Gemmell worked at the center for four years from 2015-19 and says it was a second home not only for him but also for many Māori workers who were studying at the adjacent Brigham Young University.

Gemmell says it was great being “in an environment where it was awesome to speak Māori and be surrounded by other Māori and have a place that felt like home away from home”.

Established in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) emerged as a visionary initiative by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii. The center’s foundation coincided with the construction of the nearby Brigham Young University Hawaii campus.

Since its establishment, the center has evolved into a premier destination, dedicated to preserving and celebrating the diverse cultures of Polynesia through immersive exhibits, authentic performances, and interactive experiences. Its commitment to cultural exchange and education has made it a well-known institution, welcoming visitors from around the world.

Gemmell graduated with a BSc in criminology and has moved back to his hometown of Flaxmere and works as an addictions and other drugs counsellor.

“In that community space we are actually able to incorporate interventions from te ao Māori, so mau rākau, haka, karakia, a bunch of things that we are able to do with our rangatahi.”

The festivities to celebrate the 60th anniversary will be happening all week with a variety of celebrations taking place at both the cultural center and the university.