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Polynesians in Utah

carved headstone

The headstone of Kapainui Kalauao in the cemetery at Iosepa, a Hawaiian colony that was in Utah's West Desert.

Hawaiians in Utah

Utah's first Polynesian immigrants left the warm humid climate of Hawaii in settle here in 1889. Drawn by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they established the village of Iosepa in the desert of Skull Valley, 40 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Despite the harsh surroundings, they created a beautiful little town, but most of them returned to Hawaii when the LDS church announced in 1915 plans to build a temple in Hawaii.

Tongans and Samoans

Fifty years later, looking for educational and economic opportunities, Polynesians began arriving again. They knew about Utah because of their Mormon ties. Non-Mormon family and friends joined them, and other religious congregations developed. There are now Polynesian congregations of Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Catholic, and otherh churches.

Polynesians today

Today, Utah's Polynesian community includes Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, New Zealanders, Tahitians, and people from other Pacific Islands. Artistic and cultural traditions have kept Polynesian community and family ties strong.

Each group works hard to maintain their distinctive storytelling traditions that feature dancing, isnging, and chanting. They make traditional leis, woven mats and belts, brightly colored quilts, and crocheted afghans.

Master Tongan and Samoan composers write modern songs for ancient dance forms. A number of active Samoan and Tongan brass bands deliver a unique island-based repertoire. Polynesian reggae bands present a fascinating blend of traditional and western music.

Information courtesy of the Utah Folk Arts Program.

Learn more

Read about a Tongan Wedding in Beehive History 25.