The Mormon Pacific Historical Society, the Laie Community Association and the BYU-Hawaii History Department teamed up November 21 to co-sponsor an "old movie" night in the McKay Auditorium featuring rarely seen footage of Laie from the 1930-50s. The selections included a historic look at the Hukilau program from 1949 or ‘50, and a more modern 1966 clip of Elvis Presley at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
The evening began, appropriately, with Hawaiian music by the Laie Serenaders — a volunteer group of local kupuna musicians who perform for free at many community events.
Next, "Aunty" Kela Miller brought her halau hula (hula school) on stage to dance to Nani Laie, a song composed by her great-grandmother. Afterward, she was enticed to dance a hula solo. "I'm so glad at a young age I was able to participate in the Hukilau," Miller said. She dedicated the numbers "to all our kupuna (elders an ancestors) who have gone on."
MPHS President Stella Keil told the good-sized audience the evening's screenings would begin with the "youngest" movie — a clip of Elvis Presley, who filmed a portion of his 1966 film, Paradise Hawaiian Style, at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Marie Nin Paongo, one of the many PCC employees who appeared in the brief segment at that time, explained the "king" of rock and roll spent approximately one week at the Center. "He sang one song through the whole week it took to film — Drums of the Islands, which [the late] Isireli Racule composed [as Bula Laie] and they translated it into English." She added he lip-synched the song as the music was played on huge speakers spread throughout the Center. "They kept the tourists on one side [of the lagoon], and we filmed on the other."
"In between dancing we were able to rub shoulders with him, talk story, and get acquainted with him," Paongo recalled.
"To me," she continued, "Elvis Presley was a very warm, charming individual, and I know he was deeply religious. He just loved the students at the Polynesian Cultural Center."
In the second and longer section of the program, Spencer Kamauoha of Laie explained how his grandfather was an early camera buff who acquired a spring-loaded movie camera a few years after the Eastman Kodak Company developed amateur color movie film.
"You're going to see some footage that my grandfather shot in 1939. It could be the earliest color footage here," he said. Kamauoha also proudly displayed his grandfather's Victor 16mm camera, which was later used by his father to shoot the 1950s Hukilau footage. He explained the spring was good for capturing approximately 30 seconds of film, although it would slow down toward the end of each segment.
"It wasn't until 1995 that for the Pioneers in the Pacific [conference] I took these old films out...and that's when we discovered all the things that are in the film. We were just amazed to see the things that are here."
Kamauoha showed a 1940 segment of the Laie Hawaii Temple, and a brief clip of what he believes is the only color footage of the old I Hemolele Chapel. "You only see black and white photos today," he added.
While these clips were interesting and historically significant, it was the more complete movie of the early Hukilau that really captured the attention and hearts of the audience. Kamauoha explained the Hukilau footage was also unique because it was put together, "complete with titles," like a feature film that focused on all aspects of the event. For example, the old moving images reflected the crowds arriving at Hukilau Beach, being greeted by the Hawaiian and Samoan members of the community, laying the nets and later pulling them in, and various aspects of Hawaiian and Samoan life.
"Aunty" Gladys Ahuna, one of the early Hukilau performers who was in the audience, explained that the plates of kaukau or food at the Hukilau were individually served to each guest, and later all the volunteers who helped put on the program would also eat. The film showed various Laie residents doing the hula and Samoan knife dance, and even the dog, Sasa, who could husk and eat a coconut. At one point, Ahuna noted the coconut leaf hats sold for 50 cents each.
After the screenings, pake cake (Chinese cookies) and red punch were served, typical of local refreshments from the good old days.
But undoubtedly, one of the most intriguing aspects of the movie night was the opportunity it provided for some in the audience to see their
kupuna again — and in some cases it was the first-time-ever some of them saw a moving image of their grandparents.