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Hawaiian Luau Party

The traditional Hawaiian Luau Party is a celebration of special occasions such as weddings, graduations, anniversaries and birthdays. Itís a unifying experience with the entire extended family sharing in the preparation of gathering, harvesting and cooking the feast. Aunts, nieces and mothers cut and wrap the food in Ti leaves or taro leaves, while uncles, cousins and fathers prepare the Imu, an earthen pit used as the oven to steam and smoke the fish, pork and vegetables.

The Imu is an integral part of the Hawaiian Luau Party not only because it gives the food a distinctive flavor but also because it compels the extended family to share the effort. Uncles and cousins often begin days in advance gathering lava rocks, kiawe wood and banana stumps. The father usually digs the hole a day in advance of the Luau Party, lines it with lava rocks and fills it with kiawe wood. Very early the day of the party (sometimes 3 or 4 am) the fire is started. Later in the morning about 8 or 9am, the unburned wood is removed, leaving red hot lava rocks. The chopped up banana stumps, which are mostly water and provide the steam to cook the food, are placed on top of the hot lava rocks. The food is placed in the pit sandwiched between layers of banana leaf and Ti leaf. Everything is finally covered with wet burlap and the soil from digging the pit, allowing the food to slowly cook throughout the day.

Keep in mind that while the men were preparing the Imu, the women were cutting, seasoning and wrapping the fish, pork, taro, breadfruit, yams and sweet potatoes in Ti leaves or taro leaves. Nowadays, Hawaiians wrap the food a second time in aluminum foil or put them into disposable aluminum foil pans. If a whole pig is being cooked, the men usually stuff the pig with hot lava rocks before placing it into the Imu to ensure that the pig is cooked competely.

Since the food preparation and cooking begins so early in the morning, the rest of the day is generally spent relaxing and celebrating until the evening while the food is cooking. The family will plays games or shares stories because the cooking takes all day long. Once early evening arrives, the dirt is uncovered and the food is removed. Everyone enjoys the efforts of their labors for the day with a feast for kings and queens. The traditional Hawaiian Luau Party is a true bonding experience.

While the traditional Hawaiian Luau Party is a family affair, the image in popular culture of the Hawaiian Luau Party is wholly different. The tourist Luau is generally a dinner with a roast pig and tropical drinks followed by a show with women dancing and men playing instruments or chanting. The better Luaus on the Hawaiian islands make an effort to preserve some of the cultural aspects of the traditional Hawaiian Luau Party - cooking the food in an Imu or offering traditional Hawaiian dishes such as laulau, poi and poke but the unifying spirit is usually lacking. Nevertheless, everyone should experience a tourist Luau because the combination of food and entertainment is often extraordinary.

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