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Hawaiians roast a pig for an 1890 lūʻau
Princess Kaiulani's lūʻau banquet at ʻĀinahau for the U.S. Commissioners in 1898
Dancers and musicians at a commercial lūʻau

A lūʻau (Hawaiian: lūʻau, also anglicized as "luau") is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment. It may feature food such as poi, kālua puaʻa (kālua pig), poke, lomi salmon, ʻopihi, and haupia, beer, and entertainment such as traditional Hawaiian music and hula. Among people from Hawaiʻi, the concepts of "lūʻau" and "party" are often blended, resulting in graduation lūʻau, wedding lūʻau, baby lūʻau, and birthday lūʻau.


Robert Louis Stevenson at royal lūʻau, 1889

In ancient Hawaiʻi, men and women ate meals separately. Additionally, commoners and women were not allowed to eat foods that were rarely eaten or foods that were only served during special occasions. However, in 1819, King Kamehameha II removed all the religious laws that were practiced. King Kamehameha II performed a symbolic act by eating with the women, thus ending the Hawaiian religious kapu (taboo) system. This is when the lūʻau parties were first created.[1]

People dancing at a lūʻau


Earlier, such a feast was called a pāʻina or ʻahaʻaina. The modern name comes from that of a food often served at a lūʻau: squid or chicken lūʻau, which consist of meat, lūʻau (or taro) leaves, and coconut milk. The main dish of the lūʻau is kālua puaʻa (kālua pig), slow-cooked in an imu (earth oven). Another dish that is served is poi, made from the roots of taro. This feast was usually served on the floor, on the mats often decorated with large centerpieces typically made of leaves. Utensils were never present during a lūʻau; everything was eaten by hand. For example, varieties of poi were identified by the number of fingers needed to eat it: "three-finger", "two-finger", or the thickest, "one-finger poi".

A traditional lūʻau consists of food such as:

Food at a lūʻau on Oʻahu in 1996

Lūʻau-themed parties[edit]

Lūʻau-themed or Hawaiian-themed parties vary in their range of dedication to Hawaiian traditions. For example, some extravagant affairs go so far as to ship food from the islands, while others settle for artificial lei, maitais, and a poolside atmosphere.[2]

To have a lūʻau-themed party, it is essential to have an open area, such as a backyard, because lūʻau are celebrated under large tents in outdoor areas. Also a lei is a very common item in a lūʻau. A lei is a necklace of flowers, ferns, or kukui nuts that men and women wear. At lūʻau-themed parties, the guests can make their own lei or they can be bought. At these types of parties entertainment is a must. The instruments used are typically the ukulele, guitar and sometimes drums. There are also often hula dancers.[2]

Some credit Donn Beach with the initial popularity and commercialization of lūʻaus within the continental United States.[3] A Life article from 1946 graphically displays one of his famous lūʻaus that he held in Encino, California.[4] In a 1986 interview Beach described his role in shaping private, home based lūʻaus into larger public affairs, where he included entertainment from singers such as Alfred Apaka.[5]


  1. ^ "History of the Hawaiian Luau". hawaii-luaus.com. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Celebrating the Luau with Flower Leis". March 15, 2015. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  3. ^ Bitner, Arnold (2001). Hawai'i Tropical Rum Drinks by Don the Beachcomber. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing.
  4. ^ "Life magazine". No. Sept 23, 1946. 23 September 1946. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  5. ^ Sinesky, Alice (September 16, 1986). "Interview With Donn Beach" (PDF). The Watumull Foundation, Oral History Project.

Further reading[edit]

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