It may be one of the best known traditions to come from islands, but that doesn’t mean what happens at a Hawaiian luau is common knowledge. What many people do know to expect is a grand festivity by the beach, accentuated with a delicious menu of food like a pig roasted underground – but there’s more to a luau than the staples popularized by Hollywood.
If you’re attending a luau for the first time, you may be curious as to how the night will go and what you should expect from the evening party. Should you not want to be entirely surprised, keep reading to see what awaits and what you should expect from the Hawaii extravaganza.
A Brief History
Before diving into what awaits in a luau, let’s cover a very brief history of luaus. Throughout Hawaii’s history, the luau has symbolized a festival for many different occasions, specifically the defeat of an enemy or the birth of a child.
The modern luau came about during the reign of King Kamehameha II. Prior to the king’s feast, men and women were unable to celebrate and dine together. The luau many Hawaiian’s enjoy today is very closely related to that of Kamehameha II’s grand affairs.
When You Arrive
The typical greeting at a luau includes the offering of a lei. The natural garland and intended neckwear is a symbol of love and friendship and is typically made of fresh flowers. Occasionally, you’ll see lies made of shell or kukui nuts, but the meaning doesn’t change.
It’s not uncommon that your greeting is also accompanied with a drink, like a Mai Tai or other local beverage. You’ll want to check with the luau you’re attending to see what beverages – if any – may be handed out when you arrive. What you can typically count on is a bar filled with tropical drink options.
Since the actual festivities of the luau won’t start until all guests have arrived, some will provide guests with a variety of entertainment to pass the time. You may come across locals giving demonstrations on how to craft items linked to the Hawaiian culture.
The Imu Ceremony
It’s very common for an authentic Hawaiian luau to feature the Imu Ceremony. The short and basic ritual is the unveiling of the pork, which has been cooked in an underground oven, or imu. Participants will remove layers of cloth and leaves before revealing the main course.
With the pig revealed and subsequently removed for serving, the festivities can begin. Musical entertainment plays as guests make their way to their seat, which is generally at a long table consisting of many other guests.
The buffet-styled dinner then commences, filled with a delicious assortment of cuisine that extends beyond the pork. Fish and chicken are predominant as well as side plates like potato salad, crab salad, stir fry vegetables, fried rice, and fresh fruit.
What really makes the luau is what happens after dinner.
Polynesian dancers donning exquisite costumes take guests on a tour of the local culture. Through a series of different dances and music, including the hula, these dancers suck you into Hawaii’s history with their incredible entertainment.
Closing out the night is the Samoan Fireknife dance, which is exactly as it sounds. This exciting spectacle is the perfect ending to an already fantastic event.