I actually think it’s really cute and fun when people have “luaus” or Hawaii-themed parties on the mainland. I’m a Hawaiian girl through and through, and even though these kind of events are pretty fake (involving synthetic leis and overly bright aloha shirts) and not even culturally accurate, I love that the concept of “Hawaii” brings out something special in everyone. I really believe it’s the Aloha spirit.
Ever since I was a little girl, I remember events scattered here and there where my parents helped plan and carry out luaus. Most of these events took place at church activities. When I was in Maryland, my dad was a key player in an event, helping the ward members dig and prepare an imu. It kind of failed because the tarp melted, but they salvaged what they could and the meat had kind of a rubbery taste (maybe it wasn’t even safe to eat but I’m still around so I guess we all survived haha). Everyone was still laughing and having a good time, and the rest of the food was absolutely delicious. And hey, they tried, right?
When my family lived in Japan, we helped our ward out with a big Christmas party. It was a Hawaii-themed party, and, with the resources we had (we couldn’t dig a pit and do an imu at the chapel–there literally was nowhere to dig a pit because everything is so tight in Japan, and the chapel had no grass or lawn of any kind), my parents used tin foil containers in the oven and so many crockpots to make barbeque pulled pork. I remember it tasted so delicious, the moist pulled pork with the sweet sauce.
Even when I served in the Philippines, we had a luau, and I did the whole, “Alooohhaa!” thing, which delighted the members. I don’t like to “sell” my culture, but when I really think about it, I’m not selling it, I’m sharing it. Holding luaus and Hawaii-themed parties are the closest ways that people can connect with paradise. And that’s what makes it so fun.
Hawaii is the place where you can hang loose and relax. In the fast-paced world that we live in, it’s nice to have a break from the chaos, and even be a little silly. Hawaii isn’t perfect–and I know I say that all the time–but it’s become this idea place for everyone. Sure there are stereotypes and people always mash up all the Polynesian cultures and call it Hawaiian, but the main point behind all of that is it’s bringing people together to create memories and have fun. At a luau, you get to listen to island-style music and wear bright colors and invite a little of the Hawaii sun and love inside your life.
I just went to a luau today for my ward, which is composed of young single adults, and I had a really nice time. When I got there, they had a big box of fake leis from Oriental trading, and the Beach Boys playing in the background. I volunteered myself to hand out leis (even though some people rejected wearing the leis). We played Volleyball, horseshoe (I don’t even know what that game is called), and ate food. Songs from Disney’s Moana, Lilo & Stitch, and Lion King played in the background as we ate. The wind kept blowing everything around, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. I was pleasantly surprised that they literally had a pig that they sat on the table and clawed at to get all the meat out. It was absolutely delicious.
After dinner, the only other Polynesian there, Ezra, taught everyone how to do the haka. I laughed inside because of the eagerness of so many boys and girls to learn the haka. The MC kept saying, “It’s HAWAIIAN!” and I kept thinking, Well, actually… It’s Maori but whatever. I’ve just come to accept that people are going to mash up all the Polynesian cultures and it’s ok. I don’t have to be a freak trying to correct and make everything culturally correct, because all of it is for fun.
And anyways, each Polynesian culture has its own nuances, which people can learn and discover for themselves. A prime example is just the fact that there were two Polynesians present at the party and we both have our own quirks, but we still get it. Ezra kept cracking jokes, saying, “This is a palangi party” whereas I said, “This is a haole party.” He’s Samoan. I’m Hawaiian. We’re both Polynesian, but we can still connect and understand each other–we know the differences in words and traditions of one another’s cultures, and it’s all good.
The other interesting thing was that out of us both, only one was really recognized as Polynesian–and that was Ezra. Just look at him: dark skin, Polynesian features, slight island accent–he can easily fit into that stereotypical Polynesian, whereas people don’t even know I’m Hawaiian. I mentioned it a few times in conversations and people would genuinely be surprised. I don’t fit that stereotypical mold–maybe I’m not dark enough, I’m too hapa, etc. However, the reason I really enjoyed this luau was that I didn’t feel pressured. I used to get kind of annoyed with how people kept getting things culturally inaccurate, but now I don’t care. It’s all for fun, and when I really think about it, I believe my ancestors would’ve been more than happy to share their culture and traditions with others. From what I know, they did that all the time. Likewise, I’m happy to share whatever knowledge I have, but my only sore spot is that I don’t dance hula.
When Ezra was up there teaching the haka, I faded a bit into the background because I had the fear that one of the leaders, especially the ones who knew I was from Hawaii, would publicly ask me to teach a hula dance, and, when I would have to say no, I’d be a public disgrace and shame and “not Hawaiian enough.” It’s a legit fear and when I was in the Philippines, I can’t even say how embarrassed I felt when I said I couldn’t dance. They were so confused. It just makes me wish sometimes that I did fit all of the stereotypes. But I don’t have to–and I shouldn’t have to.
But with that said, I know that I am representing my islands and my culture well by just having the aloha spirit. I really try to go out of my way in making people feel welcome and loved. There’s too much heartache and grief in the world, and we all need a place where we can feel safe and wanted. A Hawaii-themed party offers just that. You can be silly, you can dance to the beat of the drums, you can wear exotic colors, and you can cheer as loud as you want (cheeehooo!!). I enjoyed myself today, and as I looked at the gorgeous blue lake and mountains sitting in the background of the bright decorations and lei-clad party goers, I laughed at how this Hawaii girl can still feel the aloha spirit and share it, whether she’s in a foreign country or the mainland. And that’s the beauty of Hawaii. You can’t always go there, but you can always take it with you in your heart.
Is there a luau or Hawaii-themed activity that you attended that you just loved? Share your experience in the comments below! Please like and share on Facebook as well!