Lua’u and a brief history of Hawaii
It is a must do for any first time traveler to the Hawaiian islands. The Old Lahaina Luau, in Maui, possibly had the best experience for us that it combined the hula dance show with a focus on the cultural and mythological perspective while devouring on delicious traditional dishes. Read more details on the food and our experience in my Tripadvisor review.
Let’s talk about the show and some perspectives on Hawaiian history –
What is Luau?
Long before Hawaii became the Aloha state (in 1959), the Polynesians used to celebrate events or special occasions (like end of a war, new era, throning of a king, childbirth, etc.) through a gathering that invariably had a wide spread of traditional recipes. These feasts were called ‘aha’aina. Typical delicacies included fresh caught fish, pork, and bananas. Lua’u typically signifies a party or a feast. But in Hawaiian, it actually means Taro leaf. Polynesians used to enjoy cooked taro leaf (luau) during the feasts along with poi, dried fish, sweet potatoes, and pork baked underground (imu). They ate with fingers and sitting on the floor. Also, it is said that when you are invited to a luau, you are family.
Hawaiian Mythology and Legends
The Old Lahaina Lua’u show opened with a priest setting up to pay a tribute to the Gods. Hula dancers slowly arrive and perform acts to depict the multiple stages of the ceremony. Chants and drums are played to supplement the dance moves throughout the hour-long display of extravagant costumes and adept performers. The entire crew lit up the stage in such a way that soon the audience gets immerses in praying to Pele. The chants, although undecipherable to untrained ears, made it obvious how much Pele’s wrath meant to the ancient islanders, and that keeping her satisfied ensured long lives and prosperity to the residents.
Like most indigenous folk, the legends and myths of the Hawaiian islands are also associated with the whim of nature, and the tales speak of Gods, men and life. Deep connection with the mother Earth gave rise to stories about lava flow from volcanoes, tidal waves and creation of Earth. There were many Gods, most associated with certain elements of life, and around the islands, the Gods were represented by tikis. While in the islands, we found and heard about Pele, the Goddess of fire, lightning, dance, and volcanoes, the most. Legend has it, she was born in the polynesian island of Tahiti and initially came to the island of Kauai, onward to settle in Oahu. Then she got into a ravage fight with her sister Namakaokahai for seducing her brother-in-law. The battleground was Maui and said to have formed the current Haleakala crater. But she had to flee from Maui running from fiery lava flow. From then on she took abode in Mauna Kea in Big Island and that is where she lives now. From her home in the Halemau’mau’ crater, she wakes up intermittently to find her true love, who is also the husband of her sister Namakaokahai. The raging lava lake in Kilauea is a gentle reminder that she is home. To endure from the rage of Pele, the tribute and chant depicted by the Old Lahaina Luau performers seemed apt and convincing.
Brief History of the Islands
Hidden in the myths and legends of the indigenous folk, is a bloody and war torn history that dates back hundreds of years. First sign of men coming to the islands was in the fifth century when Polynesians arrived accidentally in their canoes. In the early part of the second millennium, Tahitians arrived with their Gods and demi-Gods, and instituted social structures. Division of land, social divides, and early professions started under the rule of a Monarch. The Kingdoms and the casts were in constant conflicts, yet the culture flourished with art, sport, and food. Even though cultural aspects started booming, none could actually mature into a major cultural menhir probably because of the absence of external influence and presence of constant internal turmoil.
Hawaiian islands changed hands several times during the royal kingdom reign and stayed divided. In late 1700’s, king Kamehameha united the islands and unified the tribes. After Capt. James Cook discovered the islands, constant inflow of traders, seamen and whalers changed the face of the islands and it started becoming westernized. Colonists slowly started taking over and the local free men were put under dominance. In 20th century, agriculture flourished with plantations of sugarcane, coffee and pineapple. Founder of a now famous juice company, James Dole put a spotlight on the islands after he started a massive production of fresh fruits and juices.
Hawaiian islands became an American territory and US started using the port of Pearl Harbor as one of the mainstays of Pacific dominance. The islands were on the spotlights again after an unfortunate set of attacks by the Japanese in WWII. After the unfolding of the war and a changed political landscape, Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959. The ethnicity, culture, and diversity of the islands still carries the untold stories of the islands from a historical and political perspective.
I wanted to thank you for helping me learn more about luaus. You mentioned this was used to celebrate events or special occasions. I’m kind of interested to learn if luaus were used for smaller events and could be something only a few people would attend.