History of the Hawaiian Luau Party
Having a feast has been and is a universal form of celebrating happy and important events. The Hawaiians have evolved this into a truly unique cultural experience.
Before coming into contact with the outside world, Hawaiians called this feast an 'aha 'aina. These were held for very special occasions - such as reaching a significant life milestone, the launching of a new canoe or a great endeavor. The feast survives today and is called a luau .
The food and practices observed at an 'aha 'aina were rich with symbolism and the entire event was designed to unite the participants, similar to the way the old Hawaiians braided strands of coconut husk fiber into thicker 'aha cords and rope. Certain foods might represent strength, while the names or attributes of other food items might relate to virtues or goals the participants hoped to achieve.
About 150 years ago the term luau gradually replaced 'aha 'aina. Luau, in Hawaiian, is actually the name of the taro leaf, which when young and small is cooked like spinach and is often mixed with other foods, creating Hawaiian favorites such as luau squid or luau chicken
In ancient Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals apart. Commoners and women of all ranks were also forbidden by the ancient Hawaiian religion to eat certain delicacies. In 1819, King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional religious practices. A feast where the King ate with women was the symbolic act which ended the Hawaiian religious tabus, and the luau was born.
Traditionally, the luau party was eaten on the floor. Lauhala mats were rolled out and a beautiful centerpiece made of ti leaves, ferns and native flowers and was laid the length of the mat. Bowls filled with poi and platters of meat were set out and dry foods like sweet potatoes, salt, dried fish or meat covered in leaves were laid directly on the clean ti leaves.
The imu (underground oven) is a steam oven used for the traditional meal of the Hawaiian Luau Party. River rocks are heated over firewood for several hours and when the rocks are sufficiently hot, any remaining firewood is removed and crushed banana stumps containing a lot of water are placed on top of the hot rocks which creates the steam. The food is added, and everything is covered to seal in the steam.
The Kalua pig is a Hawaiian Luau dish which is produced by slowly roasting a pig in an underground pit. Traditional kalua pig is seasoned only with salt, allowing the flavors of the pig and the vegetation it is buried with to mingle, creating a very rich, smoky flavor. Traditionally, this method of cooking a whole pig is called Kalua pua’a.
To make kalua pig in, a whole pig is rubbed down with salt while a hole is dug and lined with extremely hot rocks and layers of vegetation like banana and tea leaves. The pig is wrapped in vegetation and lowered into the hole, and then the entire pig is buried for five or more hours to slowly roast it. When the pig is done roasting, it is uncovered, removed, and served. The meat tends to be very tender and juicy, thanks to the wrapping of vegetation which keeps the pig moist during the cooking process.
While eating, a performance of the hula kahiko or hula is done with the accompaniment of chants, drums and other percussion instruments.