Mark Loproto
Posted on June 19, 2019

Luau Arts and Crafts

Luau Arts and Crafts

by Mark L., June 19, 2019

Luau attendants wait with baskets of fresh flowers, ready to teach  guests the art of lei making during the luau's arts and crafts period.
Learn traditional Hawaiian crafts

When you arrive at Hawaiian Luau, you know you’re in store for an evening filled with unforgettable entertainment and delicious food. You’re undoubtedly looking forward to the live music and hula and fire-knife dancing music as well.

It’s easy to imagine the food and the evening’s entertainment, but what happens before dinner may be a bit of a mystery.

 Most luaus also offer some fun, hands-on activities before you sit down for dinner. Venues like the Diamond Head Luau and Ka Moana Luau on Oahu provide plenty of activities to try while you wait for dinner. The Luau at Nutridge Estate even lets guests get their hands dirty helping build the imu, or underground oven.

We often associate the term “arts and crafts” with summer camp activities involving macaroni pictures and popsicle sticks. But we’re not creating weird, useless gifts to bring home. The Polynesian arts and crafts are a lot different at a luau. There’s no cheap paste or safety scissors anywhere to be seen. Everything you’ll see or make has cultural significance.

Luau Arts & Crafts: Lei Making

A young girl strings a lei of fresh flowers together during a luau's arts and crafts session.
Lei-making is a fun hands-on luau activity

Spending some time before the luau festivities enjoying the arts and crafts adds a great cultural dimension to the experience. So, what kind of handmade projects are typically found at a luau? One of the most common activities is making a traditional lei out of fresh flowers.

This is a fun activity for adults and children alike. Making leis is a way to connect with the Polynesian culture of aloha. As a symbol of love and friendship, your lei should be given to someone special.

While stringing a lei may look simple, keep in mind that the flowers are quite delicate and it takes more skill and time than you might expect. Usually, luau guests end up making bracelets to match the lei they were given when they arrived. 

The point of making arts and crafts at luaus is to expose you to Polynesian culture, though, not the end result.

Luau Arts & Crafts: Weaving

Luau guests get a lesson in the Hawaiian art of weaving.
Weaving is a fun skill anyone can learn.

Weaving is another common craft found at luaus. The art of weaving leaves from the hala tree, called lauhala, was a huge part of Hawaiian life and has evolved into a cultural art today.

Early weavers created, mats, baskets, sails, mattresses, and more from these leaves. After Western contact, Hawaiian weavers began making hats, fans, and other modern implements too.

Many families of weavers developed a signature style of lauhala and passed these patterns down from generation to generation. Today some Hawaiian master weavers have earned international recognition for their craft. 

Of course, the weaving you’ll find at luaus is not quite as advanced. Guests will usually learn to make simple strait plaits that turn into headbands or bracelets. Meanwhile, palm fronds, coconut leaves, and grass are the most common weaving materials found at luaus.

Temporary Polynesian Tattoos

Tatau at Polynesian Cultural Center, three performers with real and temporary Polynesian tattoos.
Stick with the temporary tattoos

While nobody will be tattooing luau guests with ink-dipped sharks’ teeth like an old-school Polynesian tattoo artist, temporary tattoos are a fun addition to the arts and crafts portion of the luau.

Early Hawaiians practiced the Polynesian art of kakau. These designs were used for ornamentation and to protect their health and spiritual well-being. Images of lizards, which were respected and feared, were often used, as were intricate designs that mimicked woven patterns.   Some designs were used to distinguish high-ranking individuals

After Western missionaries arrived on the islands the art of kakau fell into decline. It, like many Hawaiian customs and traditions, was considered paganism and greatly suppressed. However, it has seen a revival in the last few decades. Many modern designs are inspired by patterns and symbols used by early Polynesians. 

While the temporary tattoos you’ll find at luaus are usually applied with Sharpies, the designs used have been around for centuries and have cultural significance. 

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