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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 15, 2005


Lu'au fed appetite for culture

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

We're stepping back before Hawaiian studies happened at the University of Hawai'i. Let's rewind before the Polynesian Cultural Center. Imagine how it was before the Kodak Hula Show. Think about one of the first talking movies made in Hawai'i, "Song of the Islands."

We're in the year 1932 when Kuluwaimaka, who had served King Kalakaua as chanter, blessed George Mossman's Leilani Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, a pioneer attempt to preserve the culture.

Pualani Mossman, the star of the village and the movie, returned to Waikiki last week. Her scrapbook of pictures is like a journey into yesterday.

The Marriott hotel on Kalakaua today covers the site of the village. At that time there was a beer hall on the avenue, with coconut palms on an acre in back. At Kamehameha Schools, students were not permitted to speak Hawaiian or dance the hula. Only a dreamer would start a Hawaiian village in 1932.

George Mossman lived on Lusitana Street. He made 'ukulele on the ground floor of his home, sold them on the second floor and housed his family on the third floor. He dreamed of reviving the language and culture.

He opened a Hawaiian language school at his home early in 1929. He enrolled 50 kids, of whom only three could speak any Hawaiian. He taught the language by having the children pound poi and prepare food while they learned the Hawaiian words for what they were doing.

Then he decided to recreate a Hawaiian village where the culture could thrive. It was Pualani who spotted the palms that attracted Mossman to the site. His son helped build thatched houses. The village opened on May 19, 1932.

Kuluwaimaka gave the blessing and later chanted for paying guests at the lu'au. He lived in the "Temple Hut." Legendary beachboy Chick Daniels played in a trio that performed for the opening. A teenage Ray Kinney, later a towering figure in Hawaiian entertainment, sang a solo.

From that time on, the George Mossman family supported themselves by holding more lu'au and giving hula, 'ukulele and Hawaiian language lessons. Forty hula lessons cost $10. When ocean liners docked, their passengers paid 50 cents for an afternoon hula show at the village.

Tickets for the lu'au every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night were $2. George Mossman Jr. climbed a coconut tree as part of the lu'au program, then trundled in the kalua pig in a wheelbarrow. Pualani and her sisters performed the hula. There were demonstrations of poi pounding and building the imu.

Tourists from the Moana and Royal Hawaiian came to the lu'au —the women in smart frocks and hats; the men in long-sleeved shirts. They took home funny faces carved in coconuts and books of Don Blanding's poetry for souvenirs of Hawai'i.

The conflict between pleasing the tourists and being true to his roots must have bedeviled Mossman as it has Hawaiians ever since. His was a heroic attempt to revive the Hawaiian language and culture.