How the Luau Changed Hawaii

The history of luaus in Kauai are about a lot more than good food and great entertainment. The first luau changed Hawaii forever. Prior to the original Hawaii luau, many of the things we take for granted when we attend a Kauai luau would have been punishable by death under ancient Hawaiian law. Ancient Hawaii was governed by the kapu system, a code of conduct that governed every aspect of daily life in the islands. The portion of the kapu that relates to the specifically to the luau’s history was referred to as the ai’kapu. Were the ai’kapu still in place, a Kauai luau of today would be an unrecognizable event. Not only would the Kauai luau we attend be nothing like it is now, every aspects of life in Hawaii would be completely different. When we think of a Kauai luau, we think purely of recreation. We know that when we attend a Kauai luau we will eat wonderful cuisine and see show-stopping Polynesian dances. What many Kauai luau guests do not realize is that the first Hawaii luau represented a major turning point in Hawaiian culture. Once the tiki torches were extinguished and the lauhala mats rolled up to signal the end of the first Hawaii luau, Hawaii would never be the same. The Hyatt luau also know as the Kauai Hyatt luau is one of our favorite luaus and we highly recommend it.

So what about the ai’kapu would have made a Kauai luau so different if it were still in place? Believe it or not, absolutely nothing about a Kauai luau would be the same if the ai’kapu were still being enforced. For all practical purposes, a Kauai luau could not exist at all under this ancient set of traditions. In ancient Hawaii and during the monarchy era, eating in the Hawaiian Islands was governed by strict rules. Men and women were never allowed to eat together, for fear the women would steal the men’s mana, or spirit, while they were in a relaxed state. Women ate at the hale aina, or women’s house, and men at the hale mua, or men’s house. Can you imagine seeing this way of life observed at a Kauai luau? It’s difficult for people today to picture the reality of separate eating areas for male and female Kauai luau guests. The cuisine served at the hale mua was very different from that served at the hale aina. Under the ai’kapu, women were not allowed to eat those foods closely associated with certain Hawaiian gods. This included pork, banana, coconut, and taro. Can you imagine arriving at a Kauai luau and seeing men eating from a buffet table containing all these foods while female guests were shown to one without them? Picturing scenes like this helps us see what an impact the first luau had on Hawaiian society.

So why did the landmark event of the first Hawaii luau occur? What prompted the first luau to come along and change everything, resulting in the Kauai luau as we know it today? The first Hawaii luau was held in 1819 at the behest of King Kamehameha II. No one is completely sure why Kamehameha chose to end the ai’kapu and begin the tradition that led to the Kauai luau of today, but many speculate it had to do with his conversion to Christianity. Many aspects of the ai’kapu system revolved around ancient Hawaiian spirituality, and when the Hawaiian monarchy officially became Christian any reference to the old belief systems was heavily frowned upon. However, these beliefs were so deeply ingrained in Hawaiians of this time that no mere announcement would have been sufficient to end the ai’kapu. If 17th century Hawaiians had been invited to an event resembling a modern Kauai luau, they would have feared to attend because the punishment for breaking the ai’kapu was death. King Kamehameha held the first luau publicly so that all Hawaiians could see him enjoying a Kauai luau-style feast with his stepmother and co-ruler, Queen Ka’ahumanu. When Ka’ahumanu and the other females present enjoyed forbidden foods in the company of men right in front of the king and no punishment was forthcoming, the people accepted that the ai’kapu was actually gone, and the way was paved for the Kauai luau of today. The Kauai Hyatt luau has become one of Kauai’s favorite luaus to visit. The locals know the Kauai Hyatt luau as the Hyatt Luau.

Who knew the glamorous island escape known as the Hawaii luau played such an important role in Hawaii’s history? The luau tradition has survived and grown stronger as a reminder that sometimes something as seemingly simple as a delicious feast can be the beginning of a whole new way of life. When you attend a modern Kauai luau like the Grand Hyatt Kauai luau, take a moment to reflect on what life would be like in the islands today without King Kamehameha II’s 1819 taboo-breaking luau feast. With Kauai luau style feasts gaining popularity all over the world, this piece of Hawaiian history is sure to live on forever. Visit the Hyatt luau for the ultimate luau experience!