All this week, join us for a delightfully unwell celebration of our Internet Boyfriends. They’re sweet, beautiful men we’ve never met, and we can’t wait to share the fully formed relationships we have with each of them.
In the tiny Hawaiian town of Laie, tucked along the famous North Shore of Oahu, awaits a man with a flower in his hair and charisma that drips off his thickly muscled body. Odds are, he’s wearing nothing on that body save for a handsome lavalava and an ‘ulafala — a traditional Samoan wrap-skirt and a decorative necklace, intended to honor orators of high rank. Perched on his head is a band woven from palm leaves, framing his salt-and-pepper hair.
This is Kap Te’o Tafiti, the entertainer and educator who has spread knowledge about the Pacific Islands for nearly 40 years. He is the senior cultural advisor of the Polynesian Cultural Center, a 42-acre living museum that depicts the history of societies in Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and beyond. And beyond just performing fire-knife dances and scampering up 50-foot-tall coconut trees for the some 700,000 people who visit the center each year, Tafiti has become the Samoan heartthrob crush of the internet thanks to videos of his exploits going viral on YouTube and Reddit.
Part of it has to do with that thickly muscled visage I mentioned before; no offense to anyone who disagrees, but it’s clearly scientific fact that Tafiti has the ideal male body (you may not like it, but he is what peak male performance looks like). But beyond looks, what makes Tafiti irresistible is the power of his Immaculate Vibes®, formed through the synthesis of Samoan cool, an endless array of punny jokes and a self-aware confidence that gives him the energy of a real-life Old Spice Man.
Can you blame the internet for gushing with adoration from women and men alike when Tafiti wiggles his eyebrows, husks a damn coconut with his teeth and then cooks an incredible meal using two simple ingredients? Is my own weakness to blame when I marvel at his ability to put fire out with his feet, or that I swoon when he rips out a pitch-perfect fa’aumu, the celebratory Samoan scream inspired by traditional war cries? I don’t believe so — this must just be biology at work.
Of course, Tafiti is more than just a symbol of masculine competence with a flower in his hair. While his online fan club remarks most about his physical talents and outward charm, it’s also wholesome to discover that Tafiti is deeply religious and inspired by the world to pursue all kinds of art with a gentle outlook. A fine arts graduate from Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Tafiti likes to sculpt pottery and paint the Hawaiian landscape, capturing the essential beauty of a place that’s changed so much since the first Polynesian explorers landed there.
In so many ways, Tafiti is the distillation of a very Polynesian kind of masculinity, melding traditional notions of strength and self-reliance with the innate spirituality of a community that embodies indigenous history and belief. His dedication to spreading this knowledge, still strong after decades of work as a cultural ambassador, is a gift to the rest of us.
“My whole purpose at the Center was to perpetuate culture, so now it’s coming back to… I want to sculpt things that are now disappearing. To me, we need to get back to square one. Let’s head back to nature, to the beginning. There is so much going on today, so much, that people need time to take a break,” Tafiti said in a 2018 interview. “We’re all dying left and right, everywhere. People fall off the Earth and they haven’t accomplished what they really wanted to do. So I want to leave a legacy of art, ideas, health, perpetuating culture. The whole world is longing for a culture. And culture is a place to belong… something that brings peace, and makes things make sense.”
Part of that legacy will surely be Tafiti’s amazing ability as a performer, and the way his personality makes simple moments so hilarious and memorable. I still daydream about his incredible recipe for breadfruit, roasted in coals until the thick outer skin is brittle and the starchy flesh is soft, perfect for dipping in coconut milk that’s been caramelized with a hot lava rock. But there is much to be learned from Tafiti, even if you don’t live anywhere near a palm tree. He makes me want to strive for a more grounded life, in which I too can dig into the history and lived experience of the cultures that raised me.
It makes me think of a comment left on YouTube. “Sitting here, stoned, on the toilet in my hotel room outside of Detroit, I was struck by how profound it is that I can be transported across the world to spend time with a joyful man who has important things to teach,” writes a man named Jon.
Such is the power of Kap Tafiti: Rooted in tradition, informed by Polynesian culture and spread through the online expanse with a cheeky grin, inspiring random people to reconsider the contours of their own lives, thousands of miles from Hawaii.