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. This all changed in 1819, when 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.
The favorite dish at these feasts is what gave the luau its name.
Young and tender leaves of the taro plant were combined with chicken,
baked in coconut milk and called luau.
The traditional luau feast was eaten on the floor. Lauhala mats
were rolled out and a beautiful centerpiece made of ti leaves, ferns
and native flowers about three feet wide was laid the length of
the mat. Bowls filled with poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet made
from pounded taro root, 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.
Much to the consternation of the proper Victorian visitors, utensils
were never used at a luau, instead everything was eaten with the
fingers. Poi of various consistencies got its name from the number
of fingers needed to eat it
three finger, two finger, or the
thickest, one finger poi.
guest at King Kalakaua's coronation luau in 1883 described the lavish
decorations typical of the traditional luau, "Tables were draped
with white, but the entire tops were covered with ferns and leaves
massed together so as almost to form a tablecloth of themselves;
quantities of flowers were placed about mingling with the ferns
The natives had turned out in great numbers, and the scent of their
leis of flowers and maile leaves was almost overpowering."
These royal luaus tended to be big. One of the largest ever was
hosted by Kamehameha III in 1847. The list of foods prepared included
271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh
fish, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 taro plants and numerous other delicacies.
King Kalakaua, who was known as the "Merry Monarch" for
his love of parties and dance, invited over 1500 guests to his 50th
birthday luau. They were fed in shifts of 500!
Luaus today are not as big as those hosted by Hawaiian royalty
in the 1800s, but they are a lot of fun and feature the same traditional
and utensils are allowed. Click to read where you can
find a great luau today.