ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Kokua for Maui: Polynesian Days promotes fundraiser for Maui’s rehabilitation

Sep 3, 2023, 5:00 PM

LEHI, Utah -- When Frank Tusieseina and the team behind Polynesian Days Utah first heard about the ...

Juaul Aukusitino helps Hinei Aukusitino, 19, get ready for the Tahitian Competition at Polynesian Days Utah at Electric Park at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (Megan Nielsen/ Deseret News)

(Megan Nielsen/ Deseret News)

LEHI, Utah — When Frank Tusieseina and the team behind Polynesian Days Utah first heard about the tragedy in Maui, they knew this year’s celebration would be a first of its kind. 

“What are we going to do with our platform to help our own people?” he said. “That’s when we decided, let’s take this year’s festival and dedicate all three days and everything that we’re doing to Maui.”

Bringing aloha to Maui 

Polynesian Days is the largest gathering of Polynesian culture in Utah. For eight years now, tens of thousands of attendees have flocked to Thanksgiving Point in Lehi over the three-day celebration, coming together to share Polynesian entertainment, food, and customs.

“And just the good spirit of aloha that comes from the islands that we now have in Utah,” Tusieseina said. 

Dancers compete at the Tahitian Competition during Polynesian Days Utah at Electric Park at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (Megan Nielsen/Deseret News)

This year, the goal is not only to gift the spirit of aloha to those attending the event, but also to the residents of Maui who have lost everything in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century

Tusieseina is the executive producer of Polynesian Days and he’s also the founder of the “Kokua for Maui” relief campaign. 

Tusieseina said they chose the word “kokua” because it is the Hawaiian word for “help.” There’s a lot of fundraising going on throughout the country for people in Maui. However, Tusieseina said they wanted this campaign to feel like it was coming directly from Polynesian people in Utah. 

“The name kokua gave it that reverence that we have in our culture,” he explained. “When we’re giving gifts to those who are going through difficult times and suffering.”

Polynesian Days is sending all proceeds from the weekend celebration to the Maui Strong Fund, established by the Community Foundation of Hawaii. The nonprofit is providing on-the-ground services and financial relief to those in Maui.

As of Aug. 30, $86,087,854 has been donated to support the island’s recovery.  

Why we celebrate

Tusieseina said the Polynesian culture is steeped in family. This environment of community and loyalty is what he hopes people gain from their time at the festival. 

“We’re hoping this year, amidst all the celebration, and all the fun times and the culture and the food is that we as a group of people, Polynesians, get an opportunity to reflect on why we’re celebrating this,” he said. “Hopefully it makes a difference… our concern and our effort to help the people in Maui, from the Utah ohana to the Maui ohana.”

Dancers compete at the Tahitian Competition during Polynesian Days Utah at Electric Park at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (Megan Nielsen/ Deseret News)

Polynesian Days offers a series of entertaining performances and concerts. Among the popular fire knife competitions, drummers, dances and live performances is a special finale on Monday night.

“Everyone’s gotten so excited because we’ve never done the main event finale,” Tuseseina said.

But before the grand finale, the festival will put on a Kokua Maui ceremony.

Tusieseina said several Hawaiian groups are going to do a blessing ceremony. They will come together to bless the gift they are sending off to Maui.

“We’re going to have everybody in the park chant and sing to Maui as we prepare to send them a gift.”

He said as visitors enjoy the attractions and immerse themselves in the culture, they’d benefit from going the extra step and educating themselves on the history and stories behind the entertainment.

“Look online and say, ‘Hey, what’s the Tahitian dance about? What’s the hula about, what’s the history?'”

Time to give back

Utah has one of the largest Polynesian communities in the U.S. The state has long benefited from the Polynesian culture, and now Tunsieseian is asking Utahns to give back.

“What we’re asking for now, is really not only individual donors but major corporations, companies, businesses, to reach down and say, ‘Hey, how can we help and give this gift to kokua,” he said.

Tusieseian urged people to not only donate to Kokua for Maui but also to reach out to big corporations.

“Ask big corporations, ‘Hey, let’s find a way to give to Kokua for Maui and make a difference on a much larger scale,” he said.

We want to hear from you.

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Kokua for Maui: Polynesian Days promotes fundraiser for Maui’s rehabilitation