Your Friends Are Right
One sentiment you probably hear a lot after mentioning you’re traveling to Hawaii: “You must go to a luau!” They say it with giddy excitement, because they’ve experienced it and know what awaits on a warm tropical evening. The luau is a staple of the islands and we’re going to agree with your friends on this: you must go to a luau!
More than just a spread of exotic food and some mesmerizing entertainment, a luau is a culturally important element of life in the islands. Sure, they’ve been tailored a little to fit the tourist scene, but the meaning and traditions behind them have, for the most part, remained intact.
There are three main components to a luau, and each is rooted in Hawaiian culture, customs, and history. Let’s take a moment to show you why a luau is an important part of any Hawaiian vacation.
If you think about it, food is connected to the history of whatever region you’re in. At a luau, that history is directly connected to the wildly different cultures that came together in the Hawaiian Islands. From across the Polynesian triangle and the Pacific, early voyagers came to the islands. In the age of sugarcane and pineapple plantations, new settlers arrived from all around the globe, bringing with them their own foods. You’ll notice the Asian inspirations in a lot of the local cuisine, such as poke, a diced raw fish dish. It’s also hard to miss the Polynesian foods, such as poi, made from pounded taro root, which was brought by the first Polynesian travelers.
One food tradition has been passed down for ages: cooking in an underground oven called an imu. The idea of cooking a big hunk of meat in an oven dug into the earth is not native to Hawaii. It was brought here by the first Polynesian settlers together with the pigs and chickens that traditionally get cooked in this way.
You can learn a lot about the history of the islands just by paying attention to the foods you’re served. They may not tell the complete story of the rise of the Kingdom of Hawaii, but the food is a tasty complement to the tales that await later in the evening.
Luaus aim to keep their guests entertained from start to finish. Many do so by providing a variety of activities great for both keiki (kids) and grownups. There’s a variety of fun things for you to take part in, and while they are all entertaining, each one also represents a different piece of traditional Polynesian culture.
Popular activities usually include making a traditional lei or learning a few hula dance moves. You may even get the opportunity to learn how to throw a spear! Lei and hula have been important parts of the local culture for generations. They’re both important pieces of Hawaii that you’re likely going to see a lot of, even outside of the luau.
Every luau tells a story. The food and the activities contribute to the evening’s structure, but it’s the live production that completes the tale. Hawaiian music and dance is very deliberate. It all plays an important part in taking you on a journey from the earliest days of Polynesian voyagers to the rise of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The details of the story vary from one luau to the next, but the musical production always tells part of the history of the islands—often recounting a fateful quest—driven by song and dance.
Hula is the traditional dance at a luau, but most luaus also incorporate the thrills of fire knife dancing. Just as the name implies, there is fire, there are knives, and there is dancing. What more could you ask for?
Bottom Line: You Must Go to a Luau!
Have we convinced you of the importance of attending a luau? It’s not just about the food and the entertainment. It’s about gaining a fuller understanding of the magical place you’re visiting. You get to watch the history of the Hawaiian Islands unfold before your eyes (and even find its way into your belly)!