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Cultural Festivals
Polynesian Cultural Center Shares The Flavors Of Samoa With Hands-On Umu Making Activity

Eight New “Go Native!” Activities Open This Year

Have you ever wondered why Samoans are known as the “happy people”? Aside from the beautiful island weather, another reason may be the manaia (delicious) Samoan food! The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is offering guests the opportunity to learn how to build a traditional Samoan aboveground oven, or umu, and then sample traditional Samoan food that they’ve prepared and cooked with their own hands.

Hands-on umu making is one of eight new “Go Native!” activities that will be premiering throughout the year to entice guests to “do as natives do” and actively participate in traditional Polynesian aspects of daily life from Pacific island cultures like those of Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii. Other exciting “Go Native” activities to be introduced this year include coconut tree climbing, canoe paddling and spear throwing.

As part of Samoan umu making, guests participate in the process of pusaga o le umu (building the umu) and preparing and cooking traditional foods, including talo (taro), ulu (breadfruit), palusami (young taro leaves cooked in seasoned coconut cream) and faiai eleni (canned mackerel cooked in seasoned coconut milk). “We are very excited to share these new interactive village activities with guests; not only are they tons of fun, but they also help to fully immerse guests in all aspects of Polynesian culture,” said Delsa Moe, Cultural Presentations director for the PCC. “The umu making activity in particular provides a very unique opportunity for visiting families to actively participate in traditional Samoan cooking techniques. From the process of food and fire preparation to actually cooking and then tasting the food, guests get to participate in all aspects, from start to finish.”

Food and fire preparations start at noon daily in the tunoa (Samoan kitchen) at PCC’s Samoan village. Villagers first assist guests with fire building. To build the fire, large logs are placed in a square and then filled with tinder and river rocks that are stacked like a pyramid. The tinder is then lit to heat the rocks. While the rocks are heating, guests are invited to join the village men in skinning taro and breadfruit, peeling green bananas and scraping the coconut meat out of their shells. The coconut meat will eventually be squeezed into coconut cream to be used as the seasoning for palusami (young taro leaves cooked with coconut cream and onions) and faiai eleni (canned fish seasoned with coconut cream and onions) cooked in a coconut shell.

After the rocks have been heated completely, the large logs that framed the rocks are removed and guests are invited to sasae the umu (to flatten the pile of hot rocks with the use of long wooden poles). Guests and villagers then take the prepared foods and carefully place them onto the hot rocks with iofi (Samoan tongs). Large leaves are gently placed to cover the food, then other layers of leaves and burlap bags are added to seal in the heat.

Guests are invited back in an hour to open the umu and sample traditional Samoan food they helped to prepare and cook in an umu. Immediately following the Rainbows of Paradise canoe pageant at 3 p.m., the umu is opened for food sampling and guests enjoy the home-style cooking that they helped to prepare. For more information about the umu making activity, other “Go Native!” activities, or to make reservations, visit or call the PCC ticket office at (800) 367-7060. On Oahu, call 293-3333.
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