A Hawaiian Luau

3 03 2008

The Luau, also known as “The Traditional Hawaiian Feast”, is a feast in which people are celebrated for accomplishments, or honor important people and commemorate great events. In ancient Hawaiian time it was a time to pay respect to ancestral gods through song, dance and offerings of food, which was often the scarce. Some ancient luau lasted for days.

Times have changed from the old ancient Hawaiian luau days. Back then men and women were not allowed to feast together. Commoners and women were also not allowed to eat certain delicacies such as bananas, coconuts, pork, turtle and several types of fish. In 1819, King Kamehameha II set out and had this traditional religious practice ended. After that, King Kamehameha II had a feast in which he sat and ate with the women. This was a symbolic act in which the Hawaiian religious tabus, was ended and the luau was born.

A traditional Hawaiian luau feast is eaten on the floor. Lauhala mats were rolled out and a beautiful centerpiece made of ti leaves, ferns and native flowers were laid the length of the mat. The Hawaiians would then sit down and enjoy the feast. Utensils were never used at a traditional luau. Everything was eaten with their fingers and hands.

The ancient Hawaiians were fit. The traditional Hawaiian diet may have been “one of the best in the world”. The diet was pretty simple. It contained a high starch, high fiber, low saturated fat, low sodium and low cholesterol diet. To further break it down, it had 12 percent protein, 18 percent fat and 70 percent carbohydrates. The typical American diet today has 15 percent protein, 40 percent fat and 45 percent carbohydrates.

The main source of their protein was fish, squid, crab, other seafood, chickens and birds. The main vegetables were taro tops and edible plants such as tree fern and fan palm. The also ate fruit such as strawberries, coconuts, raspberries, apples and sugar cane. The seasonings they used came from kukui nut, seaweed, hoio fern and salt. The Hawaiians preserved some of their food with salt, but most of it was eaten fresh. The alii, or royalty ate pig. One interesting thing I found out they ate was dog!

The big feature at a Hawaiian luau is the imu. An imu is a shallow oven pit lined with stones. People today know it as “the underground oven”. This makeshift oven was used for the puaa, a whole pig. The whole pig is wrapped in banana and ti leaves and placed in the pit’s hot center. The pig and laulau, savory bundles containing side dishes, are covered with banana; ti and sometimes even ginger leaves are placed over it. They then cover these things with the final coating of earth. In few hours, each layer is removed and the luau begins.

Now, a luau isn’t a luau if poi isn’t served. Every luau must have poi there. Poi is the Hawaiian’s traditional starch. Poi is a glutinous purple paste, made from pounded taro root. It is one of the most known nutritious carbohydrates. Poi had great significance in the Hawaiian culture. It represented Haloa, the ancestor of chiefs and kanaka maoli, Native Hawaiians. There was a respect or reverence for the present of poi at the table. It was very unforgivable to have a fight or argue when poi was in their presence at the feast. Only pleasant conversation and heartiness was promoted or allowed.

Under King Kamehameha III, there was an 1847 luau event that will never be forgotten. The luau had the presence of 10,000 guests, even though in true Hawaiian style, food was always prepared for 12,000 guests. I guess they were always expecting a big crowd. At this large feast, the guest were served the following: 271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 602 chickens, 3 whole oxen, 2 barrels of salt port, 2 barrels of biscuits, 12 barrels of laulau and cabbages, 4 barrels of onions, 80 bunches of bananas, 55 pineapples, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 heads of taro, 180 squid, oranges limes, grapes and other various fruit. Wow! You talk about a luau and a lot of food.

Luaus today are not as big as the ones host by Hawaiian royalty in ancient times. The ones we have now are still a lot of fun and feature some of the same traditional foods such as poi, of course, the imu with the whole pig and laulau and many other things. Utensils are allowed, but why take the fun out of eating with your hands and fingers! At a luau it is said that, “Local people don’t eat until they are full, they eat until they are tired”.

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