Pageant of the Long Canoes

From its beginning in late 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center featured several authentic island canoes on the lagoon . . . and on April 10, 1966, premiered its first canoe pageant featuring Samoan and Maori performers aboard two of them.

We’ve lost track of when the uniquely popular half-hour, mid-afternoon show became the Pageant of the Long Canoes. Over the following 20-plus years, the Center kept the same name, but revised the pageant’s “formula,” using smaller canoes about the same size as those currently used to conduct guest canoe tours, with a deck where the islanders and musicians performed instead of benches.

Each of the six main island cultures participated (and at one time we even included a Marquesan canoe). The Center also made intermittent costume, choreography and music changes. The canoe pageant was unique, and its afternoon timing made it perfect for picture taking and video filming. Over time, Center maintenance crews installed more bench seating along the edges of the lagoon in each performance area.

As crowds grew, the Center expanded from its original “stage” near what is now the Rapa Nui exhibit (called Coconut Island in earlier years), to as many as four: One between the Hawaiian and Tahitian Villages, another between the Samoan and Tongan Villages, and a Japanese-language version near the Pacific Theater. A Center emcee provided live narration in each area. The musicians traveled on the canoes.

The Center “launched” a major revision of the pageant on January 1, 1986, when it shifted from the lagoon into the original Hale Aloha amphitheater with tiered bleacher seating. In preparation, Center maintenance crews dug out the original stage, flooded it with water, and cut extensions from the lagoon so the canoes could enter and exit. Other changes included reshaping the volcano backdrop, creating a tiki-shaped speaker tower that’s still used in the Ali’i Luau’s ‘Onipa’a show.

Beat of Polynesia

Description needed here.

Voyages of the Pacific

It started on July 3, 1989, and featured original music composed by the late PCC musician Larry Reis. 

Ancient Legends of Polynesia

It premiered July 8, 1994 . . . back on the Lagoon (after being staged for approximately a decade on the water-filled stage of the Hale Aloha.

In preparation, the Center had installed a new audio system along the lagoon’s perimeter. The “legends” include: The rainbow princess, Hawaii; the origin of firewalking, Fiji; the origin of the coconut tree, Samoa; Ponga and Puhihuia, New Zealand; the original legend of Tonga’s ruling line; and how Rata rescued his parents, Tahiti. 

Rainbows of Paradise

In December 2000, the Center unveiled another new canoe show, under the creative direction of the late Tommy Taurima, an original “cast” member from New Zealand (who also oversaw the Maori section of the night show and cultural presentations in the Maori Village). As its name suggests, the colorful costumes each island group of performers wore symbolized various island characteristics.


The Center premiered a spectacular new canoe pageant in August 2018, about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the Center for almost one year and changed tourism around the world.

While the Center is now open again, Huki — which means “pull” in Hawaiian — has not been brought back yet; but for those privileged to experience it, the colorful canoe show dramatizes how the different groups of Polynesians came together in this special place.

For example, it pays tribute to the Laie community Hukilau program, which was a popular visitor event on Hukilau Beach from the late 1940s until 1971 (and is seen as a predecessor to the Polynesian Cultural Center). It also traces how Polynesian students came to Laie to study at what is now Brigham Young University–Hawaii and help fund their education through a unique work-study program at the Center.