You can’t say you have truly experienced Hawaii until you have attended a luau. Luckily these days you don’t have to wait for an invitation as luaus are staged as entertainment just for visitors like yourself on all the major Hawaiian islands.
But what exactly is a luau and how did it start?
The original “luau” feast celebrated great achievements or events, was attended by scores of participants, and was called an aha’aina. As in other cultures, differences between the classes of society historically and between the sexes was often symbolized by restrictions in dress, education, and in this case, to certain foods. As many foods found in or around the islands – generally delicacies – were symbolic in their traditional religion , the lower class or common people could not eat the same foods as the ruling class. Woman were also restricted from eating with men. Imagine not being able to eat bananas or pork because you were an ordinary person!
This traditional form of feast gave way to the luau as we know it in 1819 when the then ruler, King Kamehameha, broke the rules, ended the religious taboos to food, and dined with women to illustrate the change. Now luaus are held not to celebrate a victory in war and such but to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, graduations and other family and friends occasions.
The fare is usually traditional: poi (from the taro plant), fish, kalau pig (cooked in an underground oven called an imu), sweet potatoes, poke, lomilomi salmon, squid, tropical fruits, haupia ( a coconut pudding), and more. The name “luau” evolved from a dish of taro (luau) leaves, coconut milk, and meat, usually chicken or squid that is a staple on the feast menu. Be prepared to eat on mats on the floor and with your fingers! Luaus are held outside to enjoy the lush tropical scenery resplendent in palms, ferns and flowers (especially stunning orchids), and sometimes the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean that thrill the attendees’ senses with the sights and smells of Hawaii. You will probably be sporting a lei ( necklace of flowers) as welcome gesture.
Luaus are often accompanied by entertainment; ukuleles, drums and hula dancing. As luaus are a common feature across the Polynesian culture, some luaus feature Tahitian dances and the Samoan fire dance, spectacular at night. It’s a real party!
Some cruise lines offer shore excursions which incorporate a luau. The luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center is a popular one. And if you are in Hawaii enjoying a sunshine and beach vacation at a resort or hotel, be sure to ask your travel advisor about attending a luau on the island where you will be staying – it’s something you don’t want to miss.
Feature image of a Hawaiin fire dancer courtesy of Pixabay.