A Luau Feast with a Side of Culture
by Mark L., April 12, 2019
Depending on how you approach it, a luau can be more than just a simple feast and a stage show. Every element of the evening is rooted in Hawaiian culture and history. The luau is a tribute to the Polynesian voyagers and for the customs and traditions that remain. While the luau feast is primarily a party, there is also a deeper level of appreciation to be gained. You’ll be surprised how much you learn about the traditions and culture that are intertwined with the luau.
We know that you’re a culturally savvy traveler. So let’s take a look at the traditions and culture that are intertwined with the luau. You’ll come away from your luau experience with a newfound appreciation for the Hawaiian people.
E Komo Mai – Welcome!
You get your first taste of tradition right off the bat when you first arrive at your luau. Visitors are presented with a lei made from fresh flowers, kukui nuts, or even small shells. This is meant to welcome you and as a show of affection. People in Hawaii tend to be very warm and friendly, eager to welcome you to their party. Refusing a lei, even if you do so politely, is considered disrespectful. As is removing it in the presence of the person you received it from. If you’re allergic to the flowers in your lei, it’s acceptable to remove them discreetly. Otherwise, it’s a courtesy to keep it on as a show of respect.
Olelo Hawaii – The Hawaiian Language
There’s a very good chance that you’re going to be hearing some unfamiliar words during your luau. Over the centuries, a unique Polynesian language grew that is still used today in many situations, both social and private. Both English and Hawaiian are the official languages of Hawaii.
Try to learn some of the basic words, such as “mahalo” (thank you) and “keiki” (child/children). Knowing a few Hawaiian words will help you understand what’s happening at the luau. And it will show your appreciation for Hawaiian culture. But don’t make a fool of yourself trying to speak like a local in the mash-up slang known as pidgin.
Many luaus, most luaus offer the chance to participate in various hands-on activities. These aren’t just mindless ways to keep you entertained before dinner is served. Most luau activities reflect Hawaiian traditions, whether it’s learning a few steps of hula or making leis. If you take part in these luau activities, be sure to approach them with respect and a desire to learn.
A lot of care goes into creating the dishes you’ll find on a traditional luau buffet. Many of them, like poi and laulau, are customary at any Hawaiian feast. Dietary restrictions aside, it’s considered a sign of respect if you at least try the dishes presented to you. Nobody is going to be offended if you don’t eat everything. But trying the food is a big part of immersing yourself in the culture.
It’s also a pleasure to dine on the many unusual and often exquisite dishes. No matter your tastes, you won’t go hungry given the abundance of delicious traditional Polynesian dishes at the luau buffet.
Traditional entertainment at a luau has a very clear purpose. It tells a story about the history and lore of old Hawaii. It pays tribute to local customs and the voyagers who first sailed across the Pacific. They’re ageless tales told through music and dance and deserve your undivided attention. Try to avoid side conversations or being distracting to the performers while the show is going on.
The Benefit to You
Some people look for the personal benefit of doing just about anything, even something as obvious as respecting local culture and traditions. By showing respect for the traditions of a Hawaiian luau, you get the most out of the evening. You walk away with a deeper understanding of Hawaiian customs and the history of the islands, not to mention a belly full of delicious food made from freshly sourced ingredients.
Most importantly, you’ll come to understand how the Hawaiian people have made the “Aloha Spirit” into something real that you feel every moment you’re here.
A Hawaiian luau is a lot more than a buffet feast and an entertaining production. It’s a glimpse into the customs of a fascinating land that can make you feel like you’re part of its incredible history, as long as you show a little respect.