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Hawaii Luau Comparison

Hawaiian Luau History and Customs

Prior to King Kamehameha II, men and women were not allowed to eat together. That changed when the King shared a symbolic meal with his mother and step-mother, thus breaking the taboo. That momentous event occurred around 1819 and luaus were born, gathering men and women with foods saved for such special occasions. A luau was a celebration of life and the gods, with music and various forms of dance being the standard entertainment. Today, the luau can be a traditional feast like the Hawaiians of old enjoyed, but it can also refer to an informal party.  

Luau Food

Luau food goes back hundreds of years, but nearly always includes dishes prepared in an underground oven called an imu. Kalua pork and laulau are musts at any luau. Laulau is typically chicken, pork, or fish, wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in the imu for hours. Poi is another luau must, which is mashed up taro root made into a sticky paste. Other popular dishes are lomi-lomi salmon and squid luau, the dish that gave its name to the party.

Hawaiian Luau Buffet

Luau food goes back hundreds of years, but nearly always includes dishes prepared in an underground oven called an imu. Kalua pork and laulau are musts at any luau. Laulau is typically chicken, pork, or fish, wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in the imu for hours. Poi is another luau must, which is mashed up taro root made into a sticky paste. Other popular dishes are lomi-lomi salmon and squid luau, the dish that gave its name to the party.


Culture and Games

Before dinner is served, there are opportunities to learn and participate in a number of traditional activities. Many luaus offer hands-on demonstrations of lei-making, basket weaving, and of course, hula dancing. Be sure to pay attention – you just might get called onstage later!


There are also games to play. ‘Ulu Maika was one of the preferred games of the ancient Hawaiians. ‘Ulu Maika is similar to lawn bowling. Players are given a variety of projectiles, ranging from a hockey puck-like stone to a smooth wooden javelin. Players are then tasked with sliding the instruments through short wicker stakes roughly 15 feet away. A more modern game is Pass the Coconut, which is essentially Hot Potato with a coconut and ukulele.


Another fun fruit-based game is pineapple bowling, which is exactly what it sounds like. Players use a coconut to try and knock down the most pineapples on their turn.


Through these activities and games, pieces of Hawaii’s Pacific culture are brought to forefront, telling stories about the islands and their history.

Culture and Games

‘Ulu Maika was one of the preferred games of the ancient Hawaiians. ‘Ulu Maika is similar to lawn bowling. Players are given a variety of projectiles, ranging from a hockey puck-like stone to a smooth wooden javelin. Players are then tasked with sliding the instruments through short wicker stakes roughly 15 feet away. A more modern game is Pass the Coconut, which is essentially Hot Potato with a coconut and ukulele.


Luau Cocktails

The traditional drinks found at a Hawaiian luau are often concoctions of ingredients one would find on the island. Luau cocktails are typically bright and cheery just like the setting. The Mai Tai is a go-to for many visitors to the islands. The sweet rum-based drink’s connection with Hawaii goes back to the Elvis Presley days. Another drink that’s been around luaus since the swinging 60’s is the Blue Hawaii. Rum (and sometimes vodka as well), blue curacao, and pineapple juice make this a potent drink in the sun.


Other traditional luau cocktails like the Lava Flow combine a host of different island flavors, including coconut, pineapple juice, banana, and fresh strawberries. Most luaus offer the option to add round-trip transportation to your package. If you plan on enjoying a few of these tasty beverages, we urge you to add this option. Many luaus are located some distance from the hotels of Waikiki, so let an experienced driver get you there and back safely.

Luau Cocktails

Luau cocktails are typically bright and cheery just like the setting. The Mai Tai is a go-to for many visitors to the islands. The sweet rum-based drink’s connection with Hawaii goes back to the Elvis Presley days. Another drink that’s been around luaus since the swinging 60’s is the Blue Hawaii. Rum (and sometimes vodka as well), curacao, and pineapple juice make this a potent drink in the sun.


Fire-Knife Dancing

The tradition of fire knife dancing is the highlight of many Polynesian shows, both in Hawaii as part of the luau entertainment, and around the world. Even though it seems like an ancient art, it actually only took its present form in 1946, when Uluao Letuli, a Samoan-American performer, was inspired—by watching a fire-eater and a baton-twirler—to light his blade on fire while preparing to perform at a Shriner’s Convention in California. Letuli’s spectacle was a great success, and the fiery dance has evolved to include poi balls, hoops, and other exotic equipment.


From its origins in Samoa, knife dancing was meant as part exhibition, part intimidation. Warriors would practice endlessly with their blades, learning the twirling, spinning artful moves that over many years evolved into the fire knife dance. Today, there is an annual competition held at the Polynesian Culture Center on the North Shore of Oahu. Three of the last ten champions were from Hawaii, with competitors from Tahiti taking the lion’s share.

Fire-Knife Dancing

Originating from Samoa, the fire knife dance made its way to the Hawaiian islands like everything else by canoe. The dance was meant as part exhibition, part intimidation. Warriors would practice endlessly with their blade, learning the twirling, spinning artful dance that is the fire knife dance. Today, there is an annual competition held at the Polynesian Culture Center on the North Shore of Oahu. Three of the last 10 champions were from Hawaii with Tahiti taking the lion’s share.


Hula and Luau Entertainment

Hula, to Hawaiians, is much more than a hip-swaying dance. Used before the Hawaiian people had a written history, the Hawaiians told their stories through each movement of the hands and body. No luau would be complete the rhythmic dance of hula. In addition to the hula and fire knife dances, the luau usually also includes lots of storytelling, singing, and drumming.


The luau is also a rich training ground for up-and-coming performers; many of Hawaii’s best-known entertainers got their start performing at luaus throughout the islands. This explains the high quality of luau entertainment: competition for a spot at one of the top venues is fierce!


Entertainment beyond hula dancing comes from all over the Pacific, including colorful dances and music from Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and Aotearoa (also known as New Zealand). Each performance offers a glimpse into a different part of the Islands of Polynesia, all of which contribute to the cultural makeup of Hawaii.

Live Entertianment

The hula, to Hawaiians, is much more than a hip-swaying dance. Used before the Hawaiian people had a written history, the Hawaiians told their stories through each movement of the hands and body. Hula can be danced at any pace and is always accompanied by a smile. No luau would be complete with a story told through the rhythmic dance of hula. Another high point of many luau shows is the fire knife dance, a dramatic, athletic routine originating in the islands of Samoa. In addition to the dances, the luau usually also includes lots of storytelling, singing, and drumming.


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