A last queen's story is now being told through hula

By Aaron Ryan

Visitors to a bustling tourist hotspot can now witness the history of Hawaii's final monarch brought to life through the art of hula.

Queen Liliuokalani's life is now seen through the show Onipa’a at the Polynesian Cultural Centre (PCC).

PCC senior cultural advisor Telesia Tonga emphasises informing visitors about this historical piece rather than simply showcasing tourist hula.

“We decided to use this important moment of a platform to educate the people of Hawai’i. And more important than just dwelling on the illegal overthrow of the Hawai’i kingdom. 

"The overarching theme is really that the queen was an example to us of how important it is to really make life decisions, live, and how we nurture relationships with aloha,” she says. 

For decades PCC has dedicated the Hawaiian Village to paying tribute to and displaying many parts of their culture. 

Being steadfast

Tonga believes the show holds a greater significance and can motivate people of all ethnicities to embrace their own cultures.

“Onipa’a was Queen Lili‘uokalani's personal motto and her mantra, and what it means in Hawaiian is, steadfast. It was actually a term taken from a phrase that she said ‘E ‘onipa’a i ka ‘imi na’auao’. Which simply means being steadfast in seeking knowledge. 

"As Māori can appreciate that’s also in terms of responsibility or kuleana to take care of the land, the ocean and to safeguard the language and the culture for future generations,” Tonga says.

The PCC hosts thousands of daily visitors who can explore Polynesian culture through shows and experiences.

Throughout the day, one can visit villages representing Sāmoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Aotearoa, and conclude the day with a Hawaiian luau event in the evening.

Tonga, the show's narrator, proudly declares this performance is an exclusive, one-of-a-kind experience that cannot be found anywhere else. 

Ending at the overthrow

“We are the only luau right now, on the island that hasn’t included a bit of fire knife dancing, and a little bit of Tahitian dancing, and we don’t have to because number one we want to be Onipa’a or steadfast about honouring the queen, and the culture of our homeland, which is Hawai'i. 

"But we can also afford not to include the other islands because you can see them at the Ha - Breath of life after the Luau,” she says. 

Queen Liliuokalani wrote more than 150 songs, including the well-known Aloha Oe featured in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch.

Tonga believes that the story of the queen is significant for the people of Hawai’i, as her leadership exemplified her ability to rescue the population of Hawai’i.

“We’re able to take a medley of some of the songs. She wrote about love and tell her life story up until the overthrow at the very end of the show. We want people to know that though this is the truth and this is what happened in Hawai’i the queen's decision not to fight to abdicate her throne was so she could spare 25,000 Hawaiian lives because that’s all that we had,” she says. 

For more information about Onipa’a, visit its website