Luaus: A Hawaii Tradition
When you’re visiting us in beautiful Kauai, visiting a luau (or touring several different luaus!) is one of the most exciting and authentic Hawaiian experiences. Enjoy all the beauty of Hawaiian culture, teeming with music, dancing, and ceremony. Luaus have an interesting and significant history. Beyond delicious food and dazzling entertainment, luaus started as a way of breaking restrictive traditions, making way for new traditions where everyone is welcome.
In ancient Hawaii, men and women were separated at mealtimes, and there were religious restrictions—especially pertaining to women and lower class people—that prohibited some natives from enjoying Hawaiian delicacies. But in 1819, King Kamehameha II abolished these traditional practices and started a new tradition. In this tradition, the King would host a feast where he ate with women, putting on display the end of the Hawaiian religious tabus. “Luau” is a word referring to the traditional dish of cooked taro leaves combined with chicken and baked in coconut milk. This was the favorite choice at the feasts, and thus the feast itself was named for this dish. Traditionally, Hawaiians ate their feast on the floor. They rolled out Lauhala mats and laid down a centerpiece of ti leaves, ferns, and flowers along the mat. On this centerpiece, mouthwatering foods were set: platters of meat, bowls of poi, and dry foods like sweet potatoes, salt, dried fish, and meat covered in leaves. The natives, surrounded by beautiful decorations and draped in leis, settled back to enjoy their feast, eating with their fingers.
With the growth of tourism, luaus became more popular as visitors were excited to try Hawaiian customs and food, and experience Hawaiian culture and entertainment. Today, Hawaii is full of luau celebrations, so everyone can enjoy the authentic experience. Here are just a few luaus you can attend while visiting Kauai.
Smith Family Garden Luau
Newly reopened at the beginning of May, Smith’s Garden Luau is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Starting at 5pm, you can take a tour of the beautiful 30-acre garden park. This lush park is full of meandering pathways and tropical foliage. View peacocks and other birds, as well as fascinating fruits in the Tropical Orchard. Stroll through the Bamboo and Fruit forests, or delight your eyes at the vibrant Flower Wheel. Throughout this park, replicas of Polynesian and Filipino huts represent to visitors what the life of the ancients would look like. You can even have your wedding at Smith’s! Their beautiful Japanese-themed garden island is a popular wedding location for those who want to get married in the gardens. Smith’s also has river tours that take you into the heart of Hawaiian culture and scenery. After touring the garden park, head to the 6pm Imu Ceremony. This traditional, “Kalua” style cooking exhibition demonstrates to you how Kalua pig is wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in an earthen Imu oven. Enjoy cocktails, beer, and wine while the Smith family plays Hawaiian songs. If you bring the whole family along, the kids can enjoy soft drinks or juice. At 6:30, transition from drinks to dinner with island dishes like Kaula pork, beef teriyaki, chicken adobo, and sweet’n’sour mahimahi. Enjoy tropical sides and desserts, and then head over to the open-air Pele Amphitheater, where you can settle back for the 8pm Rhythm of Aloha Show, illuminated by the soft glow of torches. This authentic show, complete with an erupting volcano, features dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Samoa.
During the summer and winter, Luau Kalamaku is open every Tuesday and Thursday. Experience authentic Hawaiian culture, started by the traditional Imu ceremony to commence dinner. During the ceremony, savor the flavors of the island by sipping on a Mai Tai, or sampling a variety of other tropical drinks from the open bar. Enjoy your meal under an open-air pavilion while watching talented local performers bring to life the tale of an epic sea voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii. Witness live music, stunning costumes, graceful hula dancing, fire knife dancing, and fire poi ball twirling. Luau Kalamaku provides three different packages to choose from for your visit. Their most popular package features a buffet feast, providing you with a wide array of delicious local dishes for dinner. Made with fresh ingredients straight from Kauai farms, try a wide array of Hiawaiin starters (including drinks!), entrees, and desserts.
No matter where you go, you’re sure to have a wonderful and exciting experience at a Hawaiian luau! If you’re looking for all the authentic luau fare without actually attending a luau, head to the Koloa Market for fantastic kalua pork, or try Mark’s Place for a variety of traditional dishes.
Photos by Robin Gotfrid.