You smile as a Hawaiian girl puts a plumeria lei around your neck. It’s your first Hawaiian Luau and you’re excited.
Wearing your new lei, you walk onto the wide lawn where a 100 people, mostly in flowery shirts, are sitting at tables waiting for the Kalua Pig and the big hula show. There’s the Polynesian Stage, with the wide, silver ocean behind it and the big red sun hanging above the water.
You step into the bustling dinner grounds – but first a drink. Off to your right is the Tiki Bar, made of bamboo with a palm fronds for a roof. You step up and the smiling Hawaiian bartender hands you a frosty mai tai. You take a sip, cold and perfect! Now you’re ready.
You walk down and there are your friends and family at the table reserving you a seat. You sit down and say “Aloha!” and clink toasts around, and what do know, the dinner is starting up. Good timing since you’re real hungry.
But this is not your usual restaurant, this is a real live luau. Big Hawaiian men, wearing lava lava cloths around their waist are pulling the 100 pound pig out of a hole in the ground, an underground oven called an Imu (ee-moo). Up comes the succulent pig, resting on chicken wire. Everyone claps and laughs!
The pig is cooked, you know that because it has been roasting underground, beneath hot rocks for 10 hours. It was buried this morning, cooking till sunset. It’s called a kalua pig because kalua means “to cook in an underground oven.” It is time for kau kau (kow kow) that’s Hawaiian for dinner. And here it comes! The glorious pig, called Pua’a (poo-ah ah’) in Hawaiian.
Women in muumuus and local men in lava lava cloths walk around piling little mountains of steaming pig on your plate. In a little cardboard cup is the infamous, brown pasty stuff called Poi. The joke is that Poi tastes like wallpaper paste. The question is, how does anyone know what wallpaper paste tastes like? Poi tastes great with kalua pig.
Along with the succulent pork, they serve pineapple, mango, mahi mahi tuna and lomi lomi salmon, sometimes Hawaiian-style mac salad. You use your fork, or your fingers- you can at a luau- and lift the sweet, stringy pork to your mouth, it mingles with your sweet mai tai in your mouth and it makes your whole body smile! It all tastes so ono, the Hawaiian word for delicious.
As you are eating these good “grinds”, local word for food, you look to the stage draped with green ti leaves and see a muscular Hawaiian man step up. Bare-chested, he is wearing a grass shirt and lifts a conch shell to his lips and you hear the long, haunting moan of the conch echoing across the sea. Behind him the glowing red sun is swallowed up by the grey ocean. The clouds above put on a dazzling concert of color, red, gold and pastel green!
Blowing the conch has started the big show! A smiling host with a tan face steps out wearing a gawdy aloha shirt and white pants, on a microphone he booms out,“Aloooha!” and welcomes you to watch the dancers. Suddenly the clackety, clackety clack of drums starts up and ten beautiful Hawaiian ladies, wearing barely more than grass skirts, come swirling out, their hips churning like egg-beaters. It’s a Tahitian Dance night.
The troup of dancers, a halau (ha-lau’) in Hawaiian, is swaying in a jiggling dance of grass skirts, bare bellies and waving arms. After minutes of excitement, they file offstage and you sit back with a full stomach and full heart and feel good watching the last colors of sunset fade to twilight. One star appears.
History of Hawaiian Luau
You take a sip of your mai tai and sit back and wonder about this Hawaiian Party. You once thought it was a tourist attaction invented by hotels, but learned that Hawaiians have been putting pigs in Imus for centuries, maybe on the very spot you are sitting right now. The foods you just ate, pork, mahi mahi, fresh fruit, were enjoyed by Hawaiians a thousand years ago.
Luau actually means taro leaf, when cooked tastes like spinach, but over time the name came to mean the whole feast. Hawaiian luaus are fun and sometimes have a purpose. The biggest one is the 1st Birthday Luau for babies one year old. It goes back to ancient times when it was a big deal when babies made it to one year, that meant they would probably live a bit longer. There are graduation luaus, wedding luaus and even Super Bowl luaus.
Through history they really had some big ones. Hawaiian King Kamehameha III, back in 1847 had 271 pigs, 482 wooden bowls of poi, 5,000 fish and 2,245 coconuts. The Merry Monarch, King Kalakaua invited 1,500 people to his 50th birthday luau. You’re happy to have one pig.
As you feel the warm wind brushing your face and see the lights in the palm trees all around, the host comes up once more and announces the fire-dancers. And here they come! 3 buff island men wearing Tahitian lava lavas leap onto the stage spinning flaming firesticks, twirling them around till each one looks like a circle of flame! Drums are clacking, shouts going up as the firesticks spin around and around. And then they are gone, the last act of the show.
You are glowing, filled with wonderful food and drink, what a time you had! Anyone can have the same good time any night of the week at hotels on Maui, the Big Island and all the islands. This sumptuous feast and show generally costs a little over $100 for adults and less for kids. Most of the shows have a child menu with familiar food for the keikis (cake’-eez), Hawaiian for kids (look for those discount kiosks in local towns and you’ll pay less).
There are great luaus on Maui. You can choose to go to the luau on the West or South Shore, depending on where you are staying. When doing your luau research, always ask if there is an Imu Pit at the luau, that’s the big thrill. Some do a dance show and serve pre-cooked pig. Now, why go to a luau without an Imu? If you plan to spend your vacation in Maui, make sure to check the Ultimate Guide to Maui Luaus.
On the Big Island, the Royal Kona Resort has a great Voyagers of the Pacific Luau and super sunset. Don’t miss Huggo’s Restaurant next door for good pupus and music. So, put on your aloha shirt, shorts and slippers, ladies wear a muumuu dress and head out for a good time in Hawaii.
If you’re lucky you’ll find a Hawaiian luau like King Kalakaua’s where “the scent of flower leis and maile leaves were almost overpowering.” Aloha.