PIO’s annual Lū’au event was a night of traditional dancing to worship God in all seasons.
Rolling drum beats, elaborate costumes and swaying movements filled the Felix Event Center on Saturday night during the Pacific Islander Organization’s (PIO) annual event: The Lū’au. The evening of worship through traditional Polynesian song and dance was guided by the theme “In All Seasons.” The theme verse was Colossians 1:17, which recognizes that in whatever season of life we may be, God is also there.
There was a series of other events before the start of the performance, including a dinner at 5 p.m. with the purchase of a special ticket, raffle prizes and a cheehoo contest; a cheehoo is a colloquial Polynesian exclamation. The dances began promptly at 7 p.m. and were kicked off by an enthusiastic audience countdown.
The performances explored the stories of six characters, each going through different seasons of life. The seasons of change, love, loss, growth, spiritual warfare and celebration were represented by the islands of Hawaii, Tonga, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji and Samoa, respectively.
PIO has been planning this event since fall semester and the hard work paid off. Senior youth and family ministry major Acacia Trusdell was this year’s Lū’au coordinator. Born and raised in Hawaii, Trusdell settled on the theme of “In All Seasons” because, no matter where we are coming from, we all experience life.
“I just wanted to convey this message that we go through so many different seasons but we never have to go through them alone. That is the beautiful thing about walking with God,” Trusdell said. “He desires for us to invite Him in to each of those season.”
This theme settled powerfully upon the event center from the very first dance, a traditional Hawaiian hula.
Junior mathematics major Ian Boyd was attending Lū’au for the first time and was blown away by the performances.
“I felt chills sometimes. I don’t know what it was,” Boyd said, “I could feel that it was powerful, that it was meaningful to the dancers and they were giving it their all.”
The season of loss was portrayed by the island of New Zealand. The indigenous Maori people were chosen to represent this season for their traditional ways of navigating grief and loss.
“They just don’t hold back, because they know the person that they are grieving is worth grieving,” Trusdell explained. “The life they shared was important and that is something that should be celebrated but that pain should also be expressed.”
A haka was performed during this season to symbolize communal unity to support those who grieve. This dance, along with the traditional Ori and Fa’ataupatai performances, elicited excitement and strong support from the audience through claps, yells and cheehoos.
“That is what these dances are trying to do. They are just trying to embody the feeling and the story of the character,” Trusdell said.
But the dancers were not just there to simply perform. Lū’au is hosted as a worship night through these traditional dances.
Senior criminal justice major Hannah Cruz is the director of communications for PIO. This year she participated in five dances, which personally surprised her since she does not consider herself to be a dancer.
“I did Lū’au just because I felt like I should and the purpose was to express my gratitude for the Lord and my love and faithfulness to Him through dance,” Cruz said. “This is such a unique way to [worship] that I wanted to participate [in].”
Each story was not lost on the audience. The power and passion behind each performance is still sinking in.
“Everybody is going through this kind of stuff. I would say that [I gained something] but I don’t know what it is yet,” Boyd said. “I would say it is more implicit – maybe just the broadening of my outlook [on the culture]. Maybe it will come up again later.”
Lū’au has grown from 10 dancers at its genesis many years ago to over 150 dancers in Saturday night’s performance. The event concluded with a final performance which included all of these dancers. They surrounded the tables on the floor of the event center for a song performed in ASL, evoking a well earned standing ovation.
If you are interested in joining Lū’au next year, volunteer sign ups begin near the start of the spring semester and everyone is welcome to join.