A Brief History of the Luau
Birth of a tradition
A luau is a huge party, overflowing with food, music, song, and dance. Back in the old days of Hawaii, when royals and commoners -- as well as men and women -- ate their meals apart, the tradition was called "aha-aina" (gathering for a meal). In 1819, King Kamehameha II abolished the customs that separated the people at mealtimes, allowing the creation of a new shared meal, the luau. Named after a special dish of chicken cooked in coconut milk, this festive occasion came to mark a variety of events, including births, first birthdays, and marriages. The old luau feasts were eaten on the ground, spread out on a floor of woven mats with a centerpiece made of flowers, ti leaves, and ferns. Food of all kinds, from roast pork and chicken to pineapple, poi, sweet potatoes, and fresh island fish, made each luau feast a meal fit for a king. Dancing, singing, and music rounded out the affair.
Live entertainment, great food, the works!
Today, luaus are served on tables piled high with all types of food -- not just native dishes, but also foods that arrived with the peoples who make Hawaii such a melting-pot culture. You'll find it all, from tasty poi and taro rolls to American favorites like macaroni salad and chocolate cake. (Be sure to try the haupia, the coconut pudding served as dessert.) The entertainment hasn't changed much, but there's more of it than ever. You'll see native hula and other Polynesian dances demonstrated by skilled performers, along with chanting, modern and traditional music, and even the fiery twirl of the Samoan fire knife dance!