By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
Donned in their native costumes, people representing five Polynesian islands came together Saturday to eat, sing, dance and share their culture during Killeen's first Polynesian Christmas Festival.
"It's exciting," said Nio Silao, pastor of Christ Outreach Center, a Samoan church in Killeen, and one of the event's organizers. "The islands tend to keep to themselves… We hope this will break down walls and bring people together … during the Christmas holiday."
Rows of vendors lined the Killeen Special Events Center, featuring Hawaiian necklaces, Samoan T-shirts and handcrafted Koa ukuleles. The Cuisine of the Philippines dished out chicken adobo, lumpia and dinuguan.
In the center of the room, a five-member singing group from Alaska called Island Harmony entertained the crowd with traditional Polynesian music.
Sponsored by League of United Latin American Citizens, local Samoan churches and music groups teamed up to bring Polynesian culture to Killeen. Polynesia refers to a group of more than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.
People from Samoa, Hawaii, Tonga, Philippines and Fiji attended the event, Silao said. Many traveled from as far as Alaska, San Antonio and Dallas.
Ray Cross and his family drove to Killeen from San Antonio to check out the festivities. Ray's wife, Lilly, is originally from Hawaii.
"We heard it was the first annual, and we decided to come up here to give our support," Ray said. "It's good they have a get-together to bring all the Polynesian islands together as a community."
Lilly's 14-year-old daughter Shannell Johnson enjoyed Polynesian music while devouring a Hawaiian wedding cake made of coconut and pineapple.
"The food's the best part," she said.
Sgt. 1st Class Erwin Miyamolf, who moved to Killeen from Hawaii in July, worked a booth that sold foam Hawaii Island flowers and necklaces made of Koa seeds or Kukui nuts.
"We sell a little bit of everything," he said. "It's my way of bringing my culture to people here."
The three-day festival began with a volleyball tournament on Friday morning at the Killeen Community Center. On Saturday, the event's biggest day, organizers held a festival during the day and a luau in the evening. The luau workers served tropical dishes while group performers from Alaska, Hawaii, Austin and Killeen performed Polynesian songs and dances.
This morning, pastors from the Polynesian communities will hold a non-denominational service at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. The service will honor the victims of the recent tsunami in Samoa and the victims of the Fort Hood shooting. It will also serve as a farewell to the travelers that came to Killeen for the festival.
"This is our first annual, and we're already looking forward to our second annual," Silao said.
Herald reporter Jade Ortego contributed to this report.
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at email@example.com or (254) 501-7548.