The Hukilau

A hukilau is a centuries-old Hawaiian fishing event (other Polynesians had similar customs) where a group of people — perhaps a large family or even a village — worked together to net a school of fish. The catch would be distributed among all who helped.

After seeing a large enough school of fish close to shore, a fisherman left one end of a long rope on the beach with half the group. The other end was tied to one end of a net piled into a boat. He rowed the boat far enough out to lay the net on the makai (oceanward) side of the fish, and then brought a similar rope tied to the other end of the net back to the other half of the group on the shore. Long leaves (lau) attached to the ropes would sway with the movement of the ocean, scaring the fish into the net.

As directed, the divided groups on the beach, would huki or “pull”  the ropes with attached lau — i.e., hukilau — ideally forcing the fish on shore. Of. course, the fish would try to escape and sometimes only a few were caught, but other times the participants divided up hundreds of fish.


So, what does this have to do the Polynesian Cultural Center?

In 1940 the wooden chapel the people of Laie worshipped in for over 50 years accidentally burned down. What with World War II and other logistical constraints in Hawaii, it wasn’t until the late 1940s the predominantly Hawaiian and Samoan residents of this special place began considering how to raise funds to build a replacement chapel.

On January 31, 1948, a sell-out crowd showed up for their first Laie Hukilau. The monthly (and occasionally more frequent event) included visitors helping pull in the nets, purchase handicrafts, watch demonstrations, eat a delicious luau, and enjoy authentic Polynesian entertainment, all here on what is now called Hukilau Beach.

From that very first Hukilau, the idea was a big success. Even after the people finished building their new chapel in 1951, they ran the Hukilau until 1971. Perhaps more importantly by then, many of the residents (or their children) were working at the new Polynesian Cultural Center — and they helped prove visitors would travel “all the way” to Laie to participate in a Polynesian experience.