Willamette students prepare for annual campus lu‘au

This year’s lu‘au theme, “I Lōkahi Me He `Ohana” — “We come together as one family” — mirrors the spirit of the Willamette University motto, “Not alone unto ourselves are we born.”

In the spirit of both, the annual event offers a unique cultural experience stemming from the hearts of the Hawaiian students among the Willamette community.

Members of the student Hawai‘i Club and other participants are currently working hard to prepare for the April 16 event, which will feature an authentic Polynesian meal using imported ingredients from Hawai‘i, and many genres of Polynesian dance, including four men’s and four women’s routines and one couples’ dance.

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Sierra Arlidge ’12, an anthropology major, has been involved in the lu‘au since her freshman year. Since then, she has choreographed, taught dances and danced herself. For the past two years, she has served as one of the entertainment chairpersons, and she says the experience has kept her tied to her home in Maui.

“Lu‘au is incredibly amazing and fun,” Arlidge says. “But more than that, it is close to Hawaiians’ hearts and souls. It is good for Willamette students to see who is among their community, and it’s good for us to share who we are with the people we live with.”

The event allows students to not only experience the lu‘au, but to participate. According to Arlidge, there are 30 to 90 dancers each year, and in the past, up to half of them have not been Hawai‘i natives.

Annalea Brown-Clay ’14, an environmental and earth science major from Kaui‘i, says that moving to Oregon for college was a tough transition. But the Hawai‘i Club, and especially the lu‘au, allowed her to express herself in a familiar way while also making new connections with her peers. 

Fostering Community

Club members say that that Willamette’s event is different from traditional lu‘aus in that it represents cultures across the Pacific in an utmost attempt to foster community.

This year, the team has added an element to the show. Behind-the-scenes interviews and videos will be shown to add perspective to the work and emotion that is put into the lu‘au, and to remove some of the theatrics that, according to Arlidge, sometimes threaten to commodify the culture.

“We try to make everything as genuine as possible,” Arlidge says. “We connect with a lot of Hawaiian organizations and with our families to acquire as many of our materials as possible from the islands.”

Another authentic aspect of lu‘au is the “kapu” for the participants — a week preceding the event without caffeine, refined sugars, sex, alcohol or any altering substance. Arlidge calls the kapu, which literally means “forbidden,” an opportunity to focus on the importance of the task at hand. And, she adds, it inadvertently brings community to the group as they go through the process together.

The lu‘au is April 16 in Cone Field House. Dinner is at 5:30 p.m., and the show beings at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now in Putnam University Center and Goudy Commons — prices differ for the public versus Willamette students and staff. Visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs website for info.