I was impressed with the Polynesian Cultural Center. It seems like a cultural Disneyland, but it's owned by the Mormon Church and staffed by Brigham Young University students. So on the one hand, we expected the cheesiness that apparently appeals to tourist; but on the other hand, we expected religious messaging to mar the presentation. I was impressed with the limited amount of cheese and the complete lack of religious messaging anywhere that I could detect. What I know about Mormonism comes from Rob Ruck's book The Tropic of Football: The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans in the NFL and Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet. Of course the first is recent non-fiction, while the latter is an old fiction book. But the upshot is that Mormonism doesn't operate the way Christianity does. I've known a lot of Mormons because of their missionary style. My impression is that they go abroad to do service work and set an example but do not actively convert. So a lot of folks like the cultural experience and go into anthropology. A Mormon kid we met had the pule tattoo, which he'd received to settle him down apparently, and he told us that Mormons don't prohibit tattoos. They usually advise against them, but they are OK with cultural tattoos, which is what they consider Samoan tattooing. This is different than what Samoan Mormon kids in American Samoa who accompanied a non-Mormon friend to get tattooed, but I haven't checked this anywhere else.
The great thing for us about the PCC is that we were looking for Samoans to interview, and the easiest way to identity Samoans in Hawaii without just asking (which can be weird and potentially insulting for a variety of reasons) is to go to the Samoan Island exhibit at PCC because each cultural island is staffed by students from that island. The catch is that PCC is expensive, and we didn't want to pay to go in and look for people to interview, especially since we were skeptical of this tactic at first. So we went back and forth between the main entrance and BYU campus behind PCC looking for folks and kept getting steered by to PCC. Finally, we went in and stopped by the kiosk owned by friends of Tricia Allen (more on her later), who promptly offered to comp us in for both the park and the evening show (this happened again later in the month when I returned with my wife--we arrived with malasadas the second time, but the effect was the same--having connections is the best!).
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.