Luaus are a great addition to your Honolulu vacation and there many reasons why. Luaus are ways the tourists get a taste of Hawaiian hospitality. When you visit a luau, expect to be greeted with flowers and smiling faces. There are usually different types of luau dishes served that harkens back to ancient Hawaii feasts, during a time when the royalty of Hawaii was still in power. From poke to poi, each dish had a significant meaning back then.
However, luaus were not always fun and games. Despite being enjoyed as a fun tourist attraction, luaus have a deep tradition that goes back over 100 years. Luaus are fun and if you get invited to one, consider it a privilege to learn about Hawaii and its culture. If you want to learn more about luaus, the food and how you can get into one of these parties, continue reading the sections below.
History of Luaus
In Ancient Hawaii, feasts known as “aha’aina” celebrated special occasions and life events. “Aha” means gathering and “aina” meaning meal. While friends and family had their meal, they would enjoy entertainment such as hula and traditional Hawai’ian music.
During these feasts, males and females would sit separately during meal time. Before the 19th century, the religious practices of the time called for these restrictions among men and women. They also restricted the kind of food served at the aha’aina because they believed there was symbolic meaning behind the foods. For example, certain dishes could symbolize strength or represent goals the person wanted to achieve.
This was also the reason why women of all classes were forbidden to enjoy specific Hawaiian delicacies such as traditional reel fish known as “moi,” pork and bananas. The people who were allowed to eat these dishes were the chiefs and the king. In 1814, King Kamehameha II decided to put an end to these religious traditions. As a symbolic gesture, the king sat and ate alongside the women.
This is how the present-day luau was formed. Moreover, the word “luau” means taro plant, which is a root vegetable that is commonly eaten in parts of South Asia and Africa. The leaves of the taro plant are wrapped around or served with traditional Hawaiian dishes.
What to Do at a Luau
Luaus are parties thrown to celebrate any occasion. There are wedding luaus, birthday luaus and graduation luaus. The majority of luaus will have entertainment before the dinner is served and eaten. The entertainment can be modern Hawaiian hula, however, there may be other types of traditional Polynesian dances such as the Tahitian hula and Maori haka. There is also ancient Hawaiian hula, which is less commonly shown in commercial luaus.
If you ever go to a luau, friends and families may play party games like pass the coconut, which is the equivalent to “hot potato.” There is a traditional game known as “‘ulu maika” and it is similar to lawn bowling. Two stakes are places in the ground parallel to each other, six inches apart. The player must stand about 15 feet away and try to roll a stone between the stakes. There is also the game of limbo, whoever can go under the pole without falling or touching the pole wins.
Contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music is also played at these luaus, specifically at the more private occasions. In ancient Hawaii, the music for luaus consisted of mostly drums and other instruments made by hand. The Pahu drum was a commonly used instrument and was created with shark skin.
Popular Dishes for a Luau
Food is a very important part of the luau because it is, after all, a feast. As mentioned before, religious Hawaiian tradition placed heavy significance on specific dishes. When you go to a luau, there are staple dishes that you will find. The largest dish is the Kalua pig, which is a pig, roasted whole in a traditional Hawaiian underground oven. A staple side dish is the “poi”, which is created from the plant stem of the taro. The taro is cooked and mashed to make it a yogurt-like consistency. Poi is served with most Hawaiian dishes.
Taro leaves are also used in other traditional luau dishes like “laulau.” Laulau is meat wrapped in taro leaves and then steamed. The traditional method would call to use the underground oven, also known as an “imu.” You should also expect seafood fare at a typical luau.
Poke, which has become popular on the mainland, is served at luau and is served with a variety of condiments. Poke is raw fish that is served with soy sauce, green onions, candlenut and seaweed. However, poke does not have to only have a fish base. There are other meat variations to poke. In addition to this fish dish, Lomilomi salmon is another popular luau dish. It is a side dish served with tomatoes, onion and crushed ice.
How to Get Invited to a Luau
Traditionally, luaus are celebrated amongst family and friends. But the grandeur of royal luaus caught the attention of island visitors, so hotels and event companies will host extravagant luaus for their guests. Going to a luau can allow you to get insight into Hawaiian traditions and food, and it is a privilege to be invited to one.
There are few ways to get invited to a luau, though the more common way tourists experience are those hosted by luau companies or put on at resorts. The kind of luaus you go to and the cost, if you decide to go to a commercial luau, will vary by island and venue. Commercial luaus will include a buffet dinner, drinks, and a dance and music show.
The format of most luaus starts with a lei greeting, where they place flowers strung together around your neck and invite you to the venue. You may also see Hawaiian arts and crafts at the luau venue but you may also participate in games. They will typically have large tables where you will have to sit with strangers. Once the dinner is over, the Polynesian dance will begin. Usually, these dances may not only feature traditional Hawaiian dance, but a mixture of Pacific island cultures.