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Lu'aus can be given to celebrate holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baby showers,
weddings, retirements to just about anything that brings an ohana and friends together.
The History of the Lu'au
In ancient times, Hawaiians held traditional feasts to mark special occasions—the birth of a child, a successful harvest or victorious battle were all reasons to honor the gods who showed them favor. These celebrations were called ahaaina ("gathering for a feast"). The term "luau" actually came much later and refers to the edible taro leaves that are used to wrap the food before being placed in the imu (underground oven). In ancient Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals apart. Commoners and women of all ranks were also forbidden by the ancient Hawaiian religion to eat certain delicacies. This all changed in 1819, when King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional religious practices. A feast where the King ate with women was the symbolic act which ended the Hawaiian religious taboos, and the lu'au was born.
The favorite dish at these feasts is what gave the lu'au its name. Young and tender leaves of the taro plant were combined with chicken, baked in coconut milk and called lu'au.
The traditional lu'au feast was eaten on the floor. Lauhala mats were rolled out and a beautiful centerpiece made of ti leaves, ferns and native flowers about three feet wide was laid the length of the mat. Bowls filled with poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet made from pounded taro root, and platters of meat were set out and dry foods like sweet potatoes, salt, dried fish or meat covered in leaves were laid directly on the clean ti leaves.
Much to the consternation of the proper Victorian visitors, utensils were never used at a lu'au, instead everything was eaten with the fingers. Poi of various consistencies got its name from the number of fingers needed to eat it… three finger, two finger, or the thickest, one finger poi.
A guest at King Kalakaua's coronation lu'au in 1883 described the lavish decorations typical of the traditional lu'au, "Tables were draped with white, but the entire tops were covered with ferns and leaves massed together so as almost to form a tablecloth of themselves; quantities of flowers were placed about mingling with the ferns… The natives had turned out in great numbers, and the scent of their leis of flowers and maile leaves was almost overpowering."
These royal lu'aus tended to be big. One of the largest ever was hosted by Kamehameha III in 1847. The list of foods prepared included 271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh fish, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 taro plants and numerous other delicacies. King Kalakaua, who was known as the "Merry Monarch" for his love of parties and dance, invited over 1500 guests to his 50th birthday lu'au. They were fed in shifts of 500!
lu'aus today are not as big as those hosted by Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, but they are a lot of fun and feature the same traditional foods… and utensils are allowed.
All leis symbolize aloha, love, appreciation, respect, and accomplishment.
The proper way to wear a closed lei is on the shoulders where it is draped half in front and half down the back. Open leis are worn with the middle of the lei hanging in the middle of the neck and the open ends down the front. Pregnant woman should always wear an open lei. -You do not need a special occasion to wear a lei. A lei can be worn anytime by anyone. -Some leis are more masculine and others more feminine however anyone can wear any lei. -It is acceptable to purchase a lei for yourself. -When giving a lei as a gift it is customary to give the lei recipient a kiss on the cheek when
adorning them in their lei.
-It is acceptable to wear more than one lei at a time. This is common for birthday and graduation celebrations. -Leis made with leaves from the ti (pronounced tee) plant are considered to bring good luck and
ward off evil spirits.
-DO NOT refuse a lei when offered one. This is considered to be disrespectful. -DO NOT wear a lei you intend to give to someone else. This is considered to be bad luck. -DO NOT give a pregnant woman a closed lei, it is believed to bring bad luck and symbolize the umbilical cord around the baby's neck. Only give a pregnant woman an open ended lei. -Bows are often added to closed leis and can be worn a few ways: -They can be worn in the back like a clasp on a necklace. -They can be worn to the side. If worn on the side it should be on the right if single or on the left if married or unavailable.
-For graduation ceremonies the bows can be change from one side to the other along with the tassel on
the graduation cap.
-Leis can be worn more than once. Fresh leis should be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator between uses to
keep it fresh. It can be lightly misted to keep it hydrated.
-Leis can be incorporated into a wedding ceremony to symbolize the uniting of the couple and/or their families. -Leis can be incorporated into a baptism ceremony to recognize the god parents and family members.
Head and neck leis can be made smaller to fit infants and children under 10 more, appropriately upon request.
-Leis can be incorporated into a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony to recognize the guest of honor
as well as their family.
-It is appropriate to incorporate leis in a funeral ceremony or Memorial Service. This is something that is done at funerals in the Hawaiian Islands and in other Polynesian cultures as a symbolic way to say Aloha, goodbye,
to a loved one. Any lei is appropriate to use because all leis symbolize love, respect, and appreciation.
A lei may also be symbolic of a special experience and place you shared with your loved one that you will
Throughout the world, feasting has been and is a universal form of celebrating happy and important events. However, the Polynesians, and especially Hawaiians, have evolved this great pleasure into a truly unique cultural experience called the lu’au. For many centuries, an important aspect of the Polynesian/Hawaiian culture is the Lu'au. The Lu’au has become recognized the world over as a tropical/island party with food, drink, Hawaiian music and Hula dancing. However the Lu’au within our island culture takes on a deeper significance, in addition to having a good time, ono food and music etc. it allows us to show our “Aloha Spirit”, of love, caring, and giving to our Ohana, which also extends to our friends and acquaintances. The lu’au is the perfect expression of Hawaiian hospitality and signifies a celebration of what the Hawaiian spirit is really about.