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Home > Luau > Luau History

Luau history

Throughout the world, feasting has been and is a universal form of celebrating happy and important events. However, the Polynesians, and especially Hawaiians, have evolved this great pleasure into a truly unique cultural experience, to the point that today, a Hawaiian luau is synonymous with exotic feasting.

Before contact with the western world, Hawaiians called their important feasts an 'aha 'aina. These feasts marked special occasions — such as reaching a significant life milestone, the launching of a new canoe or a great endeavor. A few survive in modern forms, such as the luau for the one-year-old baby, a graduation or wedding, that are common among Hawaiian and local families who may not even realize the practice has ancient origins.

Historically, 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, or sennit, into thicker 'aha cords and rope. For example, 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.

Starting about 150 years ago the term luau gradually replaced 'aha 'aina. Luau, in Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages, 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; but today, luau is the commonly accepted name of a Hawaiian feast.

Even so, the abundant food served at the modern Alii Luau represents the aloha spirit that brings guests and islanders together in a memorable setting at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Or as "Cousin" Benny Kai, the PCC's "Ambassador of Aloha" says, "Whenever you're at a Hawaiian luau, you are 'ohana — family."

Come join our family.

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