The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) reopened its entire Aotearoa (New Zealand) village Nov. 30 following a traditional Maori ceremony that featured the unveiling of new carvings recognizing Hawaikiroa, the ancient Polynesian navigator. In a Kawanga (ceremony) steeped in Maori culture, the village was re-opened and carvings revealed before sunrise, starting at 6 a.m. More than 150 people participated in the ceremony and the speakers included Alfred Grace, PCC’s President and CEO, and himself a native of Aotearoa.

Ceremony highlights included: Powhiri (Welcoming back of community elders and carvers with their chisels); Karanga (Calls of welcome for guests to enter); Waerea (Protective chant to clear the way for entrance); Takahi-whare (Procession of participants led through the three houses); and Whai-korero (Formal presentation to the villagers and carvers).

The intricately designed carvings are made from the native Totara timber of New Zealand. The carvings honour the ancient navigator Hawaikiroa for the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, and for also being an ancestor to Aotearoa.

“It was an inspiring ceremony and a wonderful start to what promises to be an even more rewarding cultural experience at our Aotearoa village,” said Seamus Fitzgerald, Aotearoa village manager. “Guests already enjoy great fun with our village activities and interacting with our Maori students. The addition of these new carvings will make learning about Aotearoa and the heritage of the Maori culture even more intriguing.”

The Aotearoa village consists of three houses, including the Marae (sacred place for protocol and social purposes) and meeting house, both of which were the focus of the new renovations. Guests enjoy interactive presentations about the Maori culture, including the symbolic significance of the carvings, unique facial tattoos of the Maori people, and the performance of their exciting war dance, the haka.

Aotearoa is one of six villages celebrating the native culture and people of its island heritage amidst the PCC’s 42 lushly landscaped acres, with the other villages showcasing Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and Fiji. At each island village, guests are immersed in the native culture through fun and engaging presentations, exhibits, and hands-on activities.

The PCC is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013 and is in the process of completing $100 million in facility and experiential improvements over a five-year period, which is scheduled to conclude in fourth quarter 2014 with the grand opening of the newly expanded Pacific Marketplace.

In addition to the re-opened Aotearoa village, other recent notable improvements introduced include a new Hawaii Village with a design and presentation inspired by the ahupuaa (land division used by ancient Hawaiians that extends from the uplands to the sea); Hawaiian Journey, a new cinematic experience in a theater built to resemble a volcano; a newly renovated Hale Aloha, home to the award-winning Alii Luau experience, and; a revitalized Samoa Village. (