Huiariki Watene: “It all started here”

Meet “Riki” Wātene, who was from Waimarama, Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and came back to Laie for the PCC’s 50th-anniversary reunion.

He first came to Laie in 1973 as part of a group of 18 non-students who were brought on a contract to staff the Maori Village, which needed some additional people at that time. He also soon joined the night show cast.

I liked it here. A lot of people took photos of me, so I stayed another six months after the first term.

After Riki’s contract was completed, he enrolled at Church College of Hawaii and also served a Latter-day Saint mission back in New Zealand. (He has since passed away.)

Hawaii’s hot: We arrived in


September 1973, and my first impression was it’s too hot. 

We came on a six-month contract with an option to renew, which I liked, because I didn’t like the idea of going back and killing sheep in New Zealand.

I grew up in an agricultural area, where it was all about shearing sheep, plus we had orchards.

At first, I wasn’t well versed in Maoritanga (Maori culture). I learned it here. The kaumatua — people like (the late) Uncle Barney Christy — would help me and answer questions.

We all grew up on the same marae [Kahungunu], and they built a sense of esteem and self-worth in me in terms of who we are and what we are. Of course, the common denominator was the gospel.

Later, I became a professional entertainer, and my market was the baby boomers.

I did all the rest homes and retirement villages in New

Huiariki "Riki" Wātene, a Maori from Hastings, New Zealand, parlayed his PCC experience into a career back home.
Huiariki “Riki” Wātene, a Maori from Hastings, New Zealand, parlayed his PCC experience into an entertainment career back home.

Zealand. It’s a huge market.

I’ve also been a promoter and an agent, but it all started at the Polynesian Cultural Center. I learned all my skills here in the Maori Village.

The PCC is responsible for my career. It’s responsible for my testimony. It’s responsible for me learning more about my culture many years ago, and it’s still here.

It’s good to be back.