Contemporary Versus Traditional Luau
If you have ever visited Hawaii, you’re probably familiar with the luau. Did you know that this Hawaiian feast is a tradition dating back hundreds of years? In Hawaii, men and women were once required to eat separately. After the Hawaiian King Kamehameha II came to power, he abolished this law and other restrictions in 1819. He then held a symbolic feast, to which both men and women were invited. At this feast, a traditional dish of chicken wrapped in Taro leaves and baked in coconut was served. Known as ‘luau,’ this dish gave this symbolic feast its name.
Historically, luaus have not simply been parties. They are traditionally held to celebrate important events, from a coming of age commemoration to the welcoming of important guests. Unlike many contemporary luaus, traditional luaus were not just festive Hawaiian parties, but deeply symbolic occasions.
During the first luau celebrations, guests sat on the ground, eating food that was placed on woven mats made of leaves. Traditional luau food, which was eaten by hand without any utensils, included roast pig and mashed taro root, a staple of Hawaiian diets. Both are still served at many modern luaus. King Kamehameha II made a point of incorporating certain delicacies into his symbolic feast which were, until that time, forbidden for women. Both contemporary and traditional luaus have always been large feasts. King Kamehameha II often invited so many guests that they had to eat in several shifts.
Today, large luaus are held throughout the Hawaiian islands, both for celebrations and specifically for tourist entertainment. Guests at many luaus receive a necklace of woven flowers known as a lei as a symbol of welcoming. Many of the larger hotels host their own luaus for tourists, though there are also more traditional luaus held throughout the islands for symbolic or celebratory reasons.
The weekly luaus found in the most popular Hawaiian tourist destinations are not only feasts, but also engaging displays featuring professional entertainers. If you visit a luau in Hawaii, you may see awe-inspiring fire dances, which are Samoan in origin. You’ll also get a chance to watch traditional Hawaiian hula dancers.
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Today’s luaus are actually a fusion of cultures, not only native Hawaiian but also Asian and Polynesian influences. This includes not only the entertainment, but also the food, which includes traditional cuisine as well as mainland dishes served with a unique tropical touch. One staple flavor of the luau is Hawaiian teriyaki sauce, which gives each dish a deliciously sweet yet savory flavor. You may even see Spam, a canned meat that is surprisingly popular on the islands, marinated in teriyaki sauce. Other popular dishes include traditional Hawaiian fare such as poi and Kalua pork. Some luaus incorporate 1960s cocktail foods, such as cocktail weenies in teriyaki sauce or even macaroni salad, since luau parties were especially popular during that decade.
If you are planning a Hawaiian vacation, be sure to find a luau to visit, not only for the delicious feast but also for the exciting entertainment. In addition to traditional foods and entertainment, crafts and souvenirs are often sold. Many commercial luaus even give visitors a chance to learn a simple hula dance. Today’s luaus parties range from ultra-traditional affairs held for symbolic or celebratory reasons to Hawaiian themed summer parties, and range drastically in their interpretation of luau foods and customs.
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