It seems that a luau is the quintessential Hawaii experience. These days, most large hotels in the islands offer them, and most tourists seem to have one on their list. But what is a luau, and is it more than just a way to take tourist dollars?
In 1819, King Kamehameha II loosened traditional regions restraints in Hawaiian society. Prior to this, men and women didn’t eat together publicly, and many food items were reserved for only those in the royal family. The king held a symbolic feast of all of those sacred dishes (like a mixture of meat, coconut milk, and taro leaves called “luau”) and included common men and women. The custom evolved to be any major Hawaiian feast with traditional customs intact.
A luau will take place as the sun is setting. In Kona, that means pictures like this!
Today, a luau experience will include a feast of traditional Hawaiian food (from poi and tuna poke to lomi salmon, luau, and pulled pork roasted in an imu – an earthen pit), a show of local and Polynesian dance, and ceremony authentic to the islands. The experience can be expensive, running upwards of $30-40 per person, and even higher.
So is it worth it?
The pig is taken out of the imu.
On my trip to the Kona coast on the island of Hawaii, I attended a luau for the first time since I was a child. Standing in line with the other tourists (even though we had purchased tickets in advance, seating was not reserved) at the Royal Kona resort, I was filled with dread. This was the ultimate tourist experience, and I couldn’t imagine it would be one I’d enjoy. It would be an overpriced dinner, a cheesy show, and a bunch of drunk tourists and their irritating children.
I was wrong.
The food was great, although I didn’t go back for seconds before they took down the buffet (my mistake). The show included dances from Hawaiian culture, as well as Tahitian and even Maori. Yes, there were a bunch of tourists and their kids, but somehow the shared experience made them ok.
This isn’t something I’d do on a regular basis, but if you take a trip to Hawaii, give a luau a shot. You might just find it to be a worthwhile event!
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