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Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center: Aiding and Abetting the LDS Missionary Effort

By Bill McKeever

Among the many tourist attractions in the Hawaiian Islands is the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) located on the north shore of Oahu next to the BYU-Hawaii campus. According the “Encyclopedia on Mormonism,” “the Church founded the Polynesian cultural center at Laie in November 1963 to preserve and present the cultures of Polynesia and to provide employment for the college students. The center has grown to become Hawaii’s number-one paid attraction, drawing nearly a million visitors a year” (Vol.2, The Church in Hawaii). The center resembles a type of amusement park dedicated to several Pacific island cultures. Visitors can watch authentic native dances and taste (somewhat) authentic native food from islands such as Samoa, Tonga, etc.

According to a San Diego Tribune  article (7/6/91, A10), “The center’s income is about $30 million a year, of which $25 million is exempt from federal income taxes. The center pays taxes on its gift-shop sales and a portion of the admission price for certain entertainment shows.”

Although the PCC is owned by the LDS Church, it is not used specifically as a method to proselytize. You won’t find Mormon missionaries dressed in white shirts attempting to give visitors the “six lessons.” Still, the Mormon Church has found this non-religious tourist attraction can add greatly to furthering its missionary efforts.

A great portion of the employees at the PCC are Pacific island natives. The LDS Church recruits these young people to attend the nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus. In turn, these students pay for their tuition by working at the center. Since many of these students are not American citizens, normal circumstances would demand that they have special permission from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to work in the US. However, a provision in the law allows a non-American student the ability to work if the student has on-campus employment. Since the LDS Church claims the Polynesian Cultural Center is part of their BYU-Hawaii campus, the students comply to those guidelines.

According to the Tribune article, “Up to 70 percent of the center’s 1,000 employees are from the 2,000-student school. Most of them work part time as the cultural center as guides, cooks, gardeners, dancers, and musicians. They use their income to pay for tuition and living expenses. So, in effect, Hawaiian tourists, while learning about the islands and being entertained, are aiding the Mormon’s South Pacific missionary and education programs.”

The Mormon Church’s presence in Hawaii goes back to the 1850s when ten members sailed to the islands to start a mission. By late 1854 the church claimed more than 4,000 Hawaiian converts. In 1855 a Hawaiian edition of the Book of Mormon was printed through the help of George Q. Cannon, William Farrer, and a native Hawaiian named Jonatana H. Napela. In 1919 a temple was designated on the island of Oahu. It is located in the same area as the Polynesian Cultural Center and the BYU-Hawaii campus.

According to the 1995-1996 LDS Church Almanac, there are currently 53,000 LDS members in the Hawaiian islands. This accounts for 4.4 percent of the population or 1 in 23 people.

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