A luau is a Hawaiian celebration that includes food, drinks, and entertainment consisting of dance and music. When you look at that description it sounds like a party, and that is basically what a luau is. What differentiates a luau from just a normal party?

The First Hawaiian Luau

For thousands of years, Polynesians held consumption of food as a sacred ritual. When eating, there would be prayer and thanks given to various entities that allowed for the meal. Men ate in separate quarters and ate certain foods that were restricted from women and children. Other foods were reserved only for the gods and ceremonial presentation.

With the introduction of Christianity to the Hawaiian population in 1819, a large feast was planned by the urging of Kuhina Nui (Queen Regent) Kaahumanu, and her stepson, Kamehameha II, to abolish the ancient laws and temples of worship. Also, in direct defiance to one of the sacred kapu (forbidden laws) of mixed dining, the feast included the enjoyment of food and drinks in the company of both men and women, along with entertainment. This is believed to be the first Hawaiian luau. 

Cooking Methods

Besides cooking smaller food items on an open flame over coals, Hawaiians steam their large amounts of food in an imu (underground oven). Taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, pork, fish, chicken, and pre-wrapped food items, like laulau, were cooked in the imu. 

The imu is a pit dug in the ground normally about 5-6 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep; however, dimensions vary based on the amount of food that goes in. Kindling, then larger logs, then round porous rocks are placed in the imu and lit. After the rocks get hot, a layer of banana stumps are placed on the rocks, then the food items. Banana and ti leaves cover the food items, then several damp woven mats cover the imu. Dirt is then placed completely over the mats and the food cooks for anywhere between 8-12 hours, depending on its heat and contents.  

The History of the Luau

Hawaiian luaus were held to celebrate special occasions and mostly centered around food. Prior to the first westerner, Captain James Cook, arriving in the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaiians did not have the resources to produce metal and lacked the luxury of eating with utensils. Because they ate with their hands, food was prepared in a variety of ways. 

Fish and poi were the main foods eaten, as they were most abundant. Fish were eaten raw or cooked over coals or in the imu. Poi, the staple Hawaiian food made from taro that is steamed and mashed, has always been a favorite dish. Hawaiians enjoy eating other items such as breadfruit, sweet potato, banana, pork, chicken, and other delicacies from the ocean, including seaweed, limpets, and urchins. 

Hawaiians have long enjoyed awa, a calming drink used for ceremonial purposes, and often for recreational use. A distilled spirit created in Hawaiʻi is okole hao, made from the ti root. 

In the mid 1800’s, commerce and agriculture boomed in Hawai’i, which brought an influx of immigrant workers to work in the sugar cane and pineapple fields. These immigrant workers brought their culture and foods with them. Hawai’i then became known as “the melting pot of the Pacific” and from that point on, luaus includes a diverse menu of ethnic foods from around the world. 

Where did the word luau come from?

Before the word lūʻau was used to reference a party or feast, ancient Hawaiians used other words like pa’ina (party) or ahaʻaina (feast). In the mid 1800’s, people around the world heard of the Hawaiian islands, and a group of media writers were invited to experience and write about this beautiful place. 

A luau was prepared for them, where one writer asked, “what is this?” meaning “what is a luau?” or “what do Hawaiians call this type of gathering/celebration?” The host misunderstood thinking the writer asked what was the food in front of them. It happened to be a dish called luau, the name of the taro leaf, similar to spinach. That writer went on and shared that a Hawaiian party is a luau!

Our Maui luau brings people together, offering a full evening of food and entertainment for Old Lāhainā Lūʻau guests to have an unforgettable night. Wondering what to expect? Great food, unmatched entertainment, and an unforgettable cultural experience.

The Best Maui Luau: Old Lāhainā Lūʻau

On the scenic Lāhainā coast, we have proudly entertained thousands of guests for over 30 years (since 1986). This popular Maui luau features some of Hawaii's hula dancing legends, singing sensations, and award-winning musicians. The big meal features traditional Hawaiian fare such as kālua pork, poi, and fresh limu (seaweed), along with an incredible spread of desserts. If you’re looking for a vegan luau, let us know and we’ll bring you some delicious meat-free options. 

The stage at Old Lāhainā Lūʻau is a show in itself. For decades, it has featured what many say is the most beautiful and unique show backdrop in all of Hawaii. Watch live as the sun sets over historic Lāhainā Harbor, and then stay after dark to experience one of the world’s only true luau evening shows under the stars! With ono (delicious) Hawaiian food, hula dancing, and music that entertained our ancestors, our Maui luau provides something special for everyone.

What food is served at this luau?

As mentioned above, some of the food is traditionally cooked in an underground oven, and some foods are prepared in a state-of-the-art kitchen on our stunning property. Due to current Maui COVID restrictions, the buffet option has been replaced with a taste of EVERYTHING delivered right to your table, restaurant-style. 

This authentic Hawaiian luau starts with crispy kalo (taro) and sweet potato chips with flavorful kalo hummus to dip them in. Enjoy a fresh local green salad with a breadbasket side and honey-guava butter to spread on top. Dive in for an ono sampling of Hawaiian food with generous portions of kālua pig, laulau (bundles of pork and taro leaves), fresh ahi poke, and salty lomilomi salmon that goes perfectly with freshly pounded poi. For a sweet palate cleanser, try the silky coconut haupia and sweet kulolo. 

After some entertainment, enjoy coffee and/or tea with pineapple upside-down cake and house-made ice cream. Drinks are free-flowing throughout the night for guests 21 and up. Guests who are vegetarian or have food sensitivities can let staff know and they’ll be taken care of.

Can guests experience a vegan luau or vegetarian luau?

Old Lāhainā Lūʻau cooks up masterpieces to delight our customers, including our vegetarian and vegan friends. If you prefer a plant-based life, that’s not a problem—you won’t be eating kālua  pig, but our chefs always cook up some great vegan-friendly options for our non-meat eaters. Visit us for a vegan luau that will make the meat-eaters jealous! Let us know ahead of time that you have guests who prefer meat-free options and we’ll facilitate a lovely vegan luau.

Are there drinks at a luau?

Fruity tropical drinks are one of the most enjoyable parts of an evening under the stars for those over 21 years old (be sure to bring your ID). Feel free to sip tropical beverages such as the Blue Hawaiian and Lava Flow that will put you in the mood for celebrating. Old Lāhainā Lūʻau also provides local beer options, wine, and cocktails made with premium liquor.

What is a luau evening of entertainment like?

Expect music, dancing, and aloha from our Maui luau staff. When you go to a luau there is always entertainment, like Hawaiian dancing performances by hula dancers and slack-key guitar music played in the old style or modern acoustic interpretations of traditional songs. Before COVID-19, there were cultural interactive stations, which are currently not happening. Instead they are shared as a presentation on stage during meal time, hopefully returning in the near future. 

Hula Dancing is what people think about the most when they think of a luau. The hula is so deeply connected to Hawaiian culture that it's hard not to be moved by even just one performance; and there are usually many throughout the evening, with different styles being showcased. These incredibly talented performers have been practicing their moves since youth and it shows with effortless, mesmerizing dancing.

Music to groove or relax to by award-winning musicians, ukulele players, slack-key guitarists, and soulful singers from the local community, fills the air and reminds you to enjoy the simple beauty around you.

What is a luau appropriate outfit?

It’s fun to get all dressed up for a luau, so make sure you pack your best aloha shirt or dress, as well as shoes that are easy to walk in on grass (e.g., not high heels). Maui residents typically only go in Hawaiian clothing during special occasions like weddings, but visitors are seen in aloha shirts and sundresses regularly. Wear something cool, comfortable, and bright!

A luau is an opportunity for all of us to share what makes Hawaii unique, and how we preserve our culture. A luau draws people together, melts away all barriers, lays down racial differences, economic levels, gender, and religion. All are equal at the luau; everyone laughs together and enjoys each other's company, united by love and aloha. Please join us for a magical, tropical evening at Old Lāhainā Lūʻau and we’ll show you what a Maui luau is truly supposed to be.

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