Powerful Women in Polynesia: Hui O Nani’s 57th Lū’au

With “Mana Wahine” as its central theme, Hui O Nani’s 57th annual Lū’au focused on and celebrated powerful women in Polynesia’s past and present.

“We chose ‘Mana Wahine’ as our theme because we thought it was timely with the rise of women’s issues in the last year,” Allie Saunders, entertainment chair of Lū’au, said. “Ultimately we wanted to honor our kupuna, which means our elders, everyone who has come before us, and especially honor the women in our lives.” The entirely student-led and student-run event included a photo booth, ‘ono grinds (tasty food), a live band playing renditions of island classics, games requiring audience participation, and a hula performance featuring 13 different dances. A lot of planning, dedication, and hard work was required to make Lū’au possible.

“We started preparing almost two weeks after the last Lū’au was over,” Saunders said.


Hui O Nani club officers perform at the annual Lūʻau event.

As dinner began, attendees were treated to a variety of authentic, homestyle dishes: kalua pig, laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves then wrapped in ti leaves), shoyu chicken, shoyu ahi poke, and chicken long rice. Desserts included haupia (a sweet coconut jelly), and kulolo (pounded taro root sweetened with coconut milk).

“All the dishes were cooked by students. The only dishes we catered were the poke from goPoke, the kulolo from Seattle Poi Company, and the laulau from Kauai Family Restaurant,” Colin Kubota, a senior member of Hui and food chair of Lū’au, said.

The hula performance began after dinner. All the dances were performed to mele–songs–honoring influential women in Hawaiian history and mythology.

The freshmen women’s ‘auana dance, a style of hula developed after Western influence, paid tribute to Queen Lili’uokalani, the beloved last monarch of Hawai’i who endured and persisted throughout the American annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Hui club members were also encouraged to celebrate and honor the powerful women in their own lives. “For the entrance wall, we had all our club members send in pictures of the powerful women that are in their lives to really show respect to them,” Myli Tomita, ballroom chair for Lū’au, said.

Ionatana Tua, a senior member of Hui and choreographer of three dances, reflected on this year’s theme and its connection to his own life.

“‘Mana Wahine’tome looks very different depending on the woman I’m thinking of and strength looks different depending on what you’re speaking of,” Tua said. “When I think of my family, a lot of the strength I receive is love, compassion, acceptance–and that is mana, or power, to me.”

Lexie Rodriguez, a 2016 graduate of Seattle U and former entertainment chair of Lū’au, considered her own experience in Lū’au after the performance.

“Lū’au actually gave me my starting point in my career and opened the door to what I now consider my job,” Rodriguez, who is currently an events coordinator and manager, said. “It was really an incredible opportunity. When I was in school it was where I started to grow, find myself, and find my voice. It really gave me a sense of stability and a purpose.”

Before the festivities ended, everyone–dancers, attendees, club members, and students–in the Campion Ballroom stood in a circle and joined hands to sing “Hawai’i Aloha,” a revered anthem in Hawai’i. As everyone’s voices joined together in song, there arose within the room a powerful feeling of connection and unity, of ‘ohana and of home.

In the silence that followed, over 400 people stood holding each others’ hands for a moment longer to collectively raise their arms as one. Cheers broke out, hugs were shared, and Hui’s 57th annual Lū’au officially came to a close.

“Lū’au is about sharing the culture of Hawaii with everyone here at SU, but it’s also a reminder for us about where we come from and that special bond that we all share,” Ryan Moriwake, president of Hui O Nani Hawai’i, said.

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