Sam Fehoko bent his knees, thrust his hands emphatically through the air and called out the words to accompany the traditional Polynesian haka, all in near-perfect synchronization with his father and two younger brothers.
The four Fehokos’ performance temporarily interrupted the final minutes of Saturday’s autograph session following the Texas Tech football team’s spring game as fans formed a wide circle four-deep in places to watch.
Each time Sam’s parents, Linda and Vili, visit Lubbock, they bring elements of Hawaiian and Maori culture with them. In the past that’s been limited to a few flower leis. This time, though, they wanted to do more.
Sam, who grew up in Hawaii, hosted some 20 relatives who arrived in Lubbock for the annual scrimmage that concludes the Red Raiders’ spring practice.
It was a rare visit for the junior linebacker, who doesn’t get to see his family much during the season and only goes home at spring break and before Tech football’s summer workouts. His parents and brothers V.J. and Breiden flew in from Honolulu, while other relatives traveled from as far as Fiji and as near as Euless.
Linda and Vili brought bags of coconut leaves from Hawaii and with other family members spend Thursday and Friday nights braiding the leaves into wide-brimmed hats and more than 100 headbands to hand out at Jones AT&T Stadium. As the players mingled with fans after the game, the Fehokos handed out their headbands until each football player wore one. Then they began distributing the pieces to anyone who passed by.
“And it’s a good luck omen and a symbol of the warrior heart,” Linda said. “It’s life. It’s all about life, energy, good karma.”
The Fehokos also brought lava-lava, big squares of colorful fabric, the football players tied in the traditional way around their waists, and flowers to string into leis: pink and purple orchids, soft white tuberose, fragrant tea leaf. Sam wore four stands of tea leafs as he posed for pictures with fans, but handed other leis to teammates who already sported the coconut wreaths.
“Leis are symbolic in our culture,” Sam said. “They’re a sign of welcoming, of affection toward another person.”
After giving away all the leis, headbands, lava-lava and assorted necklaces, Vili called his sons together near the north end zone. Vili performs as the Warrior at the University of Hawaii, and has appeared at the Pro Bowl, on Jimmy Kimmel Live and on ABC’s “Full House.”
On Saturday, he and his three youngest sons performed a haka, the Maori term for traditional dances, called “Ka Mate.”
Hakas have become popular warm ups for Polynesian athletes. A rugby team in New Zealand has performed Ka Mate for decades, the University of Hawaii football created a haka in the native Hawaiian language and the Euless Trinity High School football team, which has several athletes of Polynesian decent, performs Ka Mate at its games.
“It’s to prepare young men to go to battle, to go to war,” Vili said. “Ka Mate means ‘to kill.’ We performed it as an honor for our son and his football team.”