When I first went to Hawaii over 10 years ago I remember how entraining it was to experience my first luau. I loved the dancing and drums and all the fire, but when I returned to the beautiful Islands of Hawaii more recently, I wanted to experience more of the cultural side of a lu’au. After searching online and speaking with other locals I learned that the most authentic Hawaiian Lu’au is the Old Lahaina Lu’au and so we booked in to see this traditional hula and dinner experience.
The history of a Luau
To understand why it is important to consider an authentic luau, it is first important to understand the history and cultural significance of the luau. For a long time men and women would eat separately. There were also certain foods women weren’t allowed to eat. All that started to change when King Kamehameha II took over. They had large celebrations with feasts, hula, and music. These special events were all about food, fun, but most importantly family.
However, the celebration was changed drastically around 1820 when Christianity took over, and in 1830, hula was banned for more than 40 years. King Kalakaua restored hula in 1874, and at this time hula introduced women dancers.
But over the years, unfortunately the true authenticity of hula, and luaus in general changed. Hollywood created their own version of hula, using musical instruments instead of ancient gourds and drums. The dancing became more of a visual presentation instead of its origin – language.
And overtime the actual lu’au’s in Hawaii changed as they welcomed visitors to the show. Many started to combine the Polynesian and Hawaiian culture, promoting fire dancing, and feasts that didn’t even touch on true Hawaiian food. But that is what sets the Old Lahaina Lu’ua apart. It’s goal is to teach visitors about the Hawaiian culture, by creating an authentic atmosphere touching on all the senses. I will share more on that in the experience.
One of the main reasons visitors flock to Hawaii each year is the beautiful setting. Mountains located right beside the stunning waters of the Pacific Ocean. The backdrop of the Old Lahaina Lu’ua captures the beauty of Hawaii. When you first arrive you are automatically drawn to the beautiful ocean scene. Along the waterfront there are different local artists showing off their work. Here you will find one of a kind wood carvings and a band playing live music. The seating is set up to form a semi circle around a stage and in the middle of the stage is an authentic Hokule’a, the famous voyager canoes, that would be part of the story we were going to learn tonight.
What I loved about the show is they really want to teach you. Before anything starts, hula dancers take the stage and show you a few moves. Since the dance really is a language, they also tell you the meaning behind each move. On top of that, they introduce you to some authentic Hawaiian instruments, lots of shows focus on the drums, but this show also created sound with instruments that have been used for hundreds of years, like the ka’eke’eke (hallow bamboo used to create sounds like drums), an ipu, a pu (or conch), and Ili’ili (stones that create a clacking sound). I found it fascinating that so much of the music was created by natural items.
After a brief introduction, the dancing started. Both men and women took the stage in tradition costumes and headdresses dancing to traditional music and through each movement telling a story. It was truly beautiful.
One of the main reasons people come to a Lu’au is for the food right? I mean the history of the Lu’au is celebrating with a giant feast. While over the years a lot of Lu’au’s have become more “americanized”, the Old Lahaina Lu’ua prides itself on serving authentic Hawaiian foods. Yes, they serve pork that has been roasted underground for 18 hours, but they also serve other traditional foods like poi, laulau, lomilomi salmon, and the freshest tuna poke I have ever tasted. Oh and if you aren’t full after your five courses they send you home with a little treat, fresh banana bread (as we found out an island favourite).
The history lesson
While I feel many lu’uas just focus on the show, what I loved about the Old Lahaina Lu’au is that it also focused on the history of the islands and the people that call Hawaii home. We were taken back in time through dance, music, and language, to learn about how these Islands came to be and how the luau was started. Learning about the history helped created a deeper connection to Maui and the beautiful traditions and culture.
If you are visiting Maui and thinking of going to a lu’au, I highly suggest learning more about the Old Lahaina Lu’ua.
Mahalo as they say,
and happy traveling my friends,