The word "luau" has not always conjured up images of roasted pig and hula dancers. "Luau" is the name of the leaf of the taro plant, a staple of the native Hawaiian diet. It was not until the mid-to-late 19th century that the word "luau" referred to tropical feasts full of music and dancing.
In ancient Hawaiian times, the festivals were called aha'aina. These were large gatherings for special occasions, such as birth, harvests, and victorious battles. Attendants sat on lauhala mats covering the floor. Ferns, ti leaves, and flowers were arranged in the center of the mat. Heaps of poi, pork, dried fish, fresh fish, coconuts and sweet potatoes filled the remaining space. Partygoers would sit on the edges of the mat and eat with their hands.
Ancient Hawaiian law ruled that men and women could not eat together. Women and the lower classes were forbidden to eat certain delicacies. In 1819, King Kamehameha II did away with those traditions and invited women to a feast, giving birth to the luau of today. Music and dancing were an integral part of the parties, both then and now.
Nowadays, commercial luaus are popular tourist activities, and baby luaus are popular celebrations for the locals. A baby luau is a baby's first birthday party. Traditionally, a child's first year of life is thought to be the toughest. A lot of parents find it the toughest year of their lives, too! After surviving the first year, families and friends find reason to celebrate elaborately.
Held in ballrooms, parks, and backyards, baby luaus come in all shapes and sizes. Some resemble traditional luaus of the past, complete with hula dancers and traditional Hawaiian music. Others look more like mainland birthday parties with bounce castles, fruit punch for the keiki (children), and alcohol for the adults.
For the tourist, luaus don't vary as much. Hula dancers clad in coconut bras shake their hips and fire dancers tempt their fates with twirling torches. Sometimes kalua pig roasted in an imu, an underground oven, greets guests as the main course. Other typical dishes include poi, lomi lomi salmon, purple sweet potato, and of course, mai tais. Poi is a cold pudding made of mashed taro root and water. It's served with strips of raw onion for dipping. Lomi lomi salmon is diced salad mixed with tomatoes and other vegetables, and served cold as a salad. Some people like to mix it with the poi. Though startling in color, the purple sweet potato tastes almost exactly like the orange sweet potatoes popular on the mainland. And mai tais are a sweet concoction of fruit juices and rums.
Whether celebrating a baby's first birthday, or a much-needed vacation,
below is a list of helpful web sites for finding the perfect luau.