It’s one of Hawaii’s most recognized events, one that travelers from all over the globe come to take part in. The Hawaiian luau is rooted in the islands’ history and, since its inception in the early 19th century, has changed quite a bit. The festivities of today are a melding of the old and the new, delivering an experience that is as authentic as they come, but do you know what makes a luau authentic?

To help you get the most out of your luau experience, we’ll give you a quick rundown of what you typically see at an authentic event, from the moment you arrive to the evening’s last thrill.

Arriving at a Luau

One of the most iconic things about a Hawaiian luau is the arrival. When you first get to your destination, you’re greeted by hosts handing out authentic, hand-made leis. These naturally-made adornments are more than just a fashion accessory. To the Hawaiian people, the lei represents love and friendship and offering one to an individual is a way of accepting you into their community and close circle.

Leis are typically made from local flowers that vary depending on the island you’re on. Oahu luaus may have leis made from the ilima while leis made on Maui may be composed of the pink lokelani. Some luaus offer special shell leis, providing a longer-lasting souvenir.

When you’re presented with a lei, it’s considered disrespectful not to wear it and, when it’s time to dispose of it, it’s customary to burn or return it to the forests.

The Imu Ceremony

Chiefs Luau Traditions

The presenting of the lei is one of two iconic rituals that characterize a Hawaiian luau; the imu ceremony is the other. This ceremony is actually fairly simple. It’s essentially the uncovering of the pig, which for hours prior to the luau’s start has been cooking in an underground oven, or imu.

 

 

 

A Lavish Spread

For many, the most enjoyable part of the luau is the large buffet of food. While some may differ and offer a table service option, the buffet opens up the possibilities of sampling as many different foods as possible. Expect plenty of Pacific flavors to tease your taste buds, including lomi salmon, kalua pig—remember him from from the imu?—lots of other fish and seafood, and of course, poi.

While eating a little bit of everything is tempting, be sure to leave room for dessert! There’s nothing better than a taste of smooth, coconut-infused haupia complemented by lots of fresh tropical fruit.

Twilight Entertainment

After your delicious—and adventurous—meal, sit back and enjoy another Hawaiian luau tradition – the lively entertainment. There is always hula, the lovely storytelling dances, accompanied by traditional Polynesian music. If you want to try your dancing skills, most luaus welcome guest participation!

Another exciting part of the entertainment comes in the form of the fire knife dance, a Samoan favorite that is equal parts thrilling and mesmerizing to watch. Unlike the hula, the fire knife dance is best left to the professionals!