Aloha Festival brings Polynesian paradise to Tempe

Polynesian dancers perform at the Arizona Aloha Festival on March 10 at Tempe Beach Park. The festival featured authentic Hawaiian music, dancing and food. (Photo by Diana Lustig)

Amid the bustling district of downtown Tempe, Tempe Beach Park was transformed into a tropical oasis on March 10-11 during the Arizona Aloha Festival. The heat did not stop the estimated 150,000 visitors from attending the annual event.

Visitors sought out a refreshing break from the warm temperatures with natural coconut milk, refreshing fruit smoothies and Hawaiian shaved ice.

Throughout the weekend, there was a broad spectrum of activities that visitors could participate in, catering to both children and adults alike.

Visitors were treated to riveting Polynesian musical performances. Women dressed in airy floral dresses swished across the stage while men provided steady pulsing beats on the drums.

In addition, the festival offered lessons on how to play the ka‘eke’eke (a percussion instrument made out of bamboo), enthralling dances and education on the multiple island nations of the South Pacific.

The Arizona Aloha Festival also served as a sprawling marketplace of food and merchandise.

Women ruffled through racks of floral sundresses, specialty jewelry like hand-engraved Hawaiian sterling silver bracelets hand engraved and shell rings, purses and flowers to place in their hair. Men could choose from Hawaiian sports jerseys and casual shirts. Even a few dogs got into the spirit wearing leis and sunglasses.

Several people stopped by the Starlight Tiki booth to gaze at the decorations. An assortment of Tikis made out of palm tree wood stood proudly as visitors admired them. The Tikis ranged from tan wooden decorations with wild facial expressions to statues of vibrant tropical birds. Starlight Tiki is a company that consists of carvers from Phoenix.

People interested in music had a dazzling area of selection of instruments. A booth offered ukuleles of varying colors and finishes. One particular ukulele that stood out from the rest had a black-and-white checkered design. Other ukuleles veered from the standard look with bright colors. Another booth had a fine collection of Tahitian drums.

Of course, a cultural festival would not be complete without traditional food. The smoky smell of freshly marinated meat and other appetizing options enticed hungry visitors.

Harold Falk, the director for volunteers, said with a laugh, “If you ask me, the food is my favorite. It is outstanding.”

The food offered had a classic American twist, such as hot dogs and hamburgers paired with grilled pineapple. Also, people could indulge in dishes like Fiji curry chicken and Kalua pig. Dessert choices included fry bread accompanied by guava, mango and passion fruit.

The festival originally took place at the Heritage Square in 1995, but as the popularity has significantly increased, the location was moved to Tempe Beach Park. The new location is well suited to the tropical vibes of the event.

With its South Pacific flair, the Arizona Aloha Festival was a delightful feast of Polynesian traditions.

 

Reach the reporter at lrogoff@asu.edu

 

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