BYU students paint mural honoring Polynesian culture

Enoch Lui, ninth from right, and Teiano Lesa, eighth from right, stand in front of their Polynesian culture mural on Nov. 9. (Madison Casagranda)

Enoch Lui and Teiano Lesa are celebrating and sharing their Polynesian heritage with the whole city of Provo. The two BYU advertising students painted a 15 by 30 feet mural by Getout Games, incorporating symbols from Samoan and Tongan cultures.

“It’s something really important to us to remember our cultures and our identities as Polynesian people,” Lui said. “We wanted to create something that would represent our community and honor our ancestors who have immigrated here.”

Both Lui and Lesa were raised in the U.S. by a Polynesian father and American mother. Polynesian culture played a significant role in both of their upbringings.

Teiano Lesa, left, and Enoch Lui take a picture with the nearly completed mural. (Madison Casagranda)

Lui said his father’s Tongan culture taught him to be happy in all circumstances and prioritize things with eternal significance over material possessions.

Lesa, whose father is from Samoa, said the family values of Polynesian culture are just as evident in the local Polynesian community.

“There’s an immediate bond that forms when you tell someone that you are Polynesian and they’re Polynesian themselves,” he said. “The other circumstances almost don’t matter as much because you’re from the same place as them.”

Lesa said painting the mural was their way of giving back to the Polynesian community — and the Polynesian community in Utah is immense. Utah has the largest Polynesian population of any state besides Hawaii, according to Lui. 

Lui and Lesa invited Polynesian community members, as well as any other friends or classmates who wanted to attend, to participate in painting the mural on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Their friend and advertising classmate Derrick Trotman was among those who attended. He said he became “like family with the Poly culture” while working as BYU football’s video producer and forming friendships with the Polynesian players.

“(Lui and Lesa) are incredibly talented,” Trotman said. “They’ve done a lot of really cool projects with the Polynesian culture and that history and that story, and this is another one to add to it.”

Downtown Provo executive director Quinn Peterson, who helped connect Lui and Lesa with Getout Games, noted that the mural adds value to the local community.

“We liked this project because it does represent a larger than normal Polynesian population,” Peterson said. “This was a neat opportunity to speak to that group.”

The mural is just one part of a larger ongoing project called Project Tala. “Tala” is both the Tongan and Samoan word for “storytelling,” and that’s exactly what the project is about. Lui and Lesa are gathering stories from their family members and others from the local Polynesian community and sharing them through various media.

“It’s cool to be a part of, to have such a rich history behind something and then be able to make our mark,” Lesa said about Project Tala. “It’s nice to have something we can say that we’ve done to help further our culture.”

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