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The Ultimate Guide to Lūʻau in Maui: Where Tradition Meets Celebration

April 10, 2024

Table of Contents

Lūʻaus (or anglicized as luaus) are iconic Hawaiian celebrations that blend cultural significance with vibrant entertainment for locals and tourists alike. Traditionally, they were called “aha’aina,” which translates to “gathering to eat.” These gatherings served as a way for Hawaiian communities to come together and celebrate life’s important milestones, victories in battle, religious offerings, and bountiful harvests.


Over time, the term “lūʻau” came into favor, likely referencing the taro leaves (lūʻau) that were traditionally used to wrap food before cooking in an underground oven, called an imu. 


Today, lūʻaus have evolved into a cherished tradition enjoyed by all. Locals connect with traditions they may not have direct experience with to foster community and strengthen bonds. Visitors experience a window into Hawaiian culture with rich performances, delicious food, and a deeper understanding of the history and traditions of Hawai’i. 


While some lūʻaus might cater towards tourist expectations, it’s important for lūʻaus to be presented respectfully, ensuring accurate cultural practices without trivializing their rich history for entertainment purposes.


The Cultural Significance of Lūʻaus


The earliest Polynesians are believed to have arrived in Hawaiʻi around 400 CE (Common Era). Large gatherings centered around food and community called aha’aina likely developed around this time. With a complex social structure consisting of Hawaiian chiefs, priests, and various social classes, these gatherings became a way to celebrate and strengthen social bonds.


The purpose of aha’aina was to celebrate births and weddings, honor achievements like victories in battle, offer food and prayers for blessings, and strengthen community.


Historians theorize that sometime in the mid-1800’s a shift occurred where aha’aina became lūʻau. Two potential reasons exist for this shift. 


The first comes with the abolishment of the kapu system by King Kamehameha II in 1819. The kapu system was a strict set of religious laws that dictated daily life. With the kapu system gone, celebratory feasts became more accessible to all social classes. This wider participation likely led to a more relaxed and celebratory atmosphere rather than the strict rituals before the change.


The second reason comes from the signature dish lūʻau, which is chicken or squid cooked with taro leaves in coconut milk. This dish was likely a common staple at aha’aina feasts and over time, “lūʻau” might have gained wider recognition and eventually became synonymous with the entire gathering itself.


As western visitors arrived eager to experience Hawaiian culture, these traditional gatherings began to include elements that would appeal to foreigners and today, lūʻaus remain a vibrant part of Hawaiian culture and tourism.


What to Expect at a Maui Lūʻau


When you first arrive at a lūʻau, you will put on a lei made of shells, flowers, or kukui nuts. There will likely be community seating to give the cultural feel of a large gathering.


No lūʻau is complete without a delectable Hawaiian feast. The star of the show is kālua pig, slow-roasted pork cooked to perfection in an imu (a traditional underground oven). Another staple Hawaiian dish is poi made from pounded taro root. Poi has a slightly nutty flavor and a unique, thick consistency.


You’ll also find fish on your plate, whether that be poke—fresh, cubed raw fish marinated in a savory blend of soy sauce or sesame oil—or lomi lomi salmon, which is a salted salmon dish mixed with tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. And of course, you’ll indulge in haupia, a creamy coconut pudding dessert.


Once you’re stuffed, the fun begins with amazing performances. Hula offers the art of storytelling through hand gestures, body movements, and rhythmic chanting. Dancers in bright skirts and traditional leis and jewelry perform movements symbolizing nature, history, and legends. You’ll also hear the rhythmic sounds of the ukulele and nose flute with traditional music. For added excitement, get ready to witness a thrilling display of skill and artistry with fire knife dancing where dancers manipulate flaming batons to create a mesmerizing spectacle.


Many lūʻaus offer additional experiences like learning to make beautiful flower leis, symbolic of love and aloha, or gaining insights into Hawaiian culture through storytelling demonstrations or traditional games.


If you’re planning on spending one day in Maui and want to experience a lūʻau for all it has to offer, be sure to reserve a spot—especially during peak season—because they do fill up quickly, and be mindful of the cultural significance of the lūʻau and respect the experience.


Best Lūʻaus in Maui


When choosing your lūʻau experience, there are some factors to consider. 


  • Location: Consider if you prefer a beachfront setting or a more intimate venue.
  • Focus: Some lūʻaus focus heavily on cultural immersion, while others offer more entertainment aspects while still respecting Hawaiian culture. 
  • Budget: Lūʻaus can range in price depending on the location, amenities, and entertainment. (Be sure to look into this if you’re heading to Maui on a budget).
  • Reviews: Read online reviews from past guests for insights into the lūʻau experience.


Here are a few of Maui’s premier lūʻau experiences to get you started on your search (and to show you why Maui is the best Hawaiian island to visit).


Aha’aina Wailea Lū’au at the Grand Wailea


Held at the stunning Grand Wailea resort, this lūʻau kicks off with engaging pre-show activities like temporary tattooing and ukulele lessons. As the sun sets, a traditional Hawaiian feast awaits, followed by a captivating performance that weaves the legend of Maui through dance, music, and storytelling. This beachfront lūʻau promises a delightful blend of delicious food, cultural immersion, and captivating entertainment.


Feast at Mokapu at Andaz Maui


Nestled on Maui’s Mokapu Beach, this intimate experience offers stunning oceanfront views as you partake in traditional Hawaiian activities. Learn the art of crafting beautiful leis before indulging in a delectable menu of lūʻau staples. As the evening unfolds, performances bring Hawaiian legends to life through vibrant dance, music, and storytelling.


Te Au Moana at Wailea Beach Resort


Situated directly on the Wailea Beach Resort beachfront, this lūʻau offers a great Hawaiian experience. Their expansive buffet features an enticing blend of traditional Hawaiian dishes alongside international favorites, ensuring there’s something delicious for everyone. Witness dancers tell stories through movement, be enthralled by rhythmic music, and feel the heat with the fiery artistry of the knife dancers. Te Au Moana offers a nice blend of cultural immersion with respectful entertainment.

When traveling to Maui there will never be a shortage of things and places to see. Make sure you’re always abiding by local and cultural laws when exploring the natural beauty of Maui and most importantly, relax! That’s what you came to do after all. 


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