Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students come together for end of year luau

UO Pacific Islanders Club practices one of their performances during dress rehearsal for the luau. [Isabella Garcia/FLUX]

By Isabella Garcia

Members of Hui O’ Hawai’i, the University of Oregon Hawaii Club, have been preparing for their 44th annual lūʻau all school year. From choosing a theme to choreographing an entire show to spending seven hours the weekend before finalizing the performance, preparing for the event has required an extensive amount of work. But, even though the dances will be entertaining and the show will be beautiful, the club wants attendees to understand the depth of what they’re watching.

Mo’okini practicing one of the dances she’ll perform at the luau May 25. [Isabella Garcia/FLUX]

“We’re not a performance group,” Polani Mo’okini, president of the University of Oregon Hawaii Club, said.

While some UO students have only heard of Hawaii Club because of the luau—the club’s biggest event of the year—the event is a secondary part of the club’s role on campus.

“Our first mission is to make sure our students have a home away from home,” Mo’okini said. “The second is to continue to educate ourselves. Cultures aren’t something you learn in the classroom.”

For many members, like Mo’okini, the club is a space where they can find comfort in their culture, which is mostly absent in the larger Eugene area; meetings are as much about practicing language and sharing oral stories as they are about coming together as a community of people who understand each other’s experiences.

“In a dominantly white world, it’s hard to preserve our culture,” Tepora Lavatai, director of Kalapu Pasifika, UO’s Pacific Islander Club, said. Lavatai helped create the Pacific Islander Club—which partners with Hawaii Club for the end of year luau—two years ago after noticing there wasn’t a designated space in Eugene for the Pacific Islander community.

Tepora Lavatai (center) practices one of her performances with fellow Pacific Islanders Club members. [Isabella Garcia/FLUX]

The primary function of the club, similar to that of Hawaii Club, is to create a space for Pacific Islander students to feel at home, but having a designated group on campus also raises the visibility of these students on campus.

The University of Oregon may have a majority white student body, but communities of color exist throughout campus life. Public events like the yearly luau help elevate the general student body’s awareness. Even if the luau is a student’s only interaction with Hawaii Club and Pacific Islander Club, Lavatai believes that the event transcends surface level entertainment.

“Performing is our way of speaking out, among other things,” Lavatai said. “[Our culture is] beautiful, and we do perform, but you can see the family aspect in our performance.”

This year’s luau theme is “‘O nā hōkū nō nā kiu o ka lani,” translating to “the stars are the spies of heaven.” The event is Saturday, May 25 at MacArthur Court on the University of Oregon campus. Doors open at 5 p.m., dinner is served at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for UO students and can be purchased at the UO ticket office or online.