February “Tips from Tats” – Hawaiian Lūʻau vs Polynesian Lūʻau

When you plan a trip to Hawai‘i, experiencing a lū‘au is a MUST. The food, upbeat drum beats, and cultural costumes create an exciting and immersive experience for everyone involved. However, not all lū‘aus are alike. They may incorporate a blend of cultural characteristics that can be found across Polynesia. Here are some ways to distinguish the difference between an authentic Hawaiian Lū‘au and a Polynesian Lū‘au.


Traditional Lū‘au Fare

Hawaiian lū‘aus typically serve the following dishes:

  • Poi: Pounded taro plant root; a starch meant to be eaten with everything.

  • Kālua Pig: Pork prepared in an imu or underground oven and shredded.

  • Chicken Long Rice: A chicken noodle soup-like dish with bean thread noodles and ginger.

  • Laulau: Meat wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and steamed. Traditionally, this is prepared in an underground oven called an imu.

  • Lomilomi Salmon: A side dish made from salmon, tomatoes, onion and crushed ice.

  • Haupia: Coconut pudding.

  • Poke: The term literally means “to slice cross-wise into pieces” and commonly features raw fish served with a variety of condiments such as shoyu (soy sauce), green onions, kukui nut (candlenut), limu (seaweed). However, the dish isn’t exclusively fish-based and there are other variations as well.

Polynesian Lū‘aus may feature much different dishes such as Poisson Cru (Tahiti), or curried stews (Fiji).

Tahitian Poisson Cru

Traditional Dress

Hawaiian Hula Traditional Dress

Garments worn at Hawaiian lū‘aus will vary according to the style of dance being performed.  The hula kahiko, or ancient hula, attire consists of a malo, or loincloth, for men, a pāʻū, or skirt, and a woven top for women and a rectangular shawl or kihei for both. The malo is typically made of kapa, a barkcloth made from various plant fibers. The pāʻū skirt is typically made of fabric and stamped/printed with designs pertaining to the chant that is being performed.  Hula ‘auana attire is more contemporary and consist of slacks and a dress shirt for the men and a mu’umu’u or long dress for women.

Polynesian Traditional Dress

Varying Polynesian lū‘aus often feature women wearing a pa-u or pareu (pareo), a garment tied around the waist that usually drapes right above the knees.


Hawaiian Hula

An authentic Hawaiian lū‘au will feature the traditional Hawaiian dance of Hula, which is known for its beautiful arm movements and symbolism. The ancient dance, Hula Kahiko, is performed to an oli (chant) accompanied by a pahu drum, a traditional sacred drum covered in sharkskin. The movements are very straight and precise and traditionally honor Hawaiian gods/goddesses and chiefs. Hula ‘Auana features a more modern-style of costuming and choreography. Dances are performed to mele, (song) sung by musicians playing modern instruments such as a ‘ukulele, guitar, and a bass.  Movements are much more flowing and express a range of emotions such as happiness, love, and longing.

Polynesian lū‘aus will often include Ori Tahiti (traditional Tahitian dance), Siva Afi (Samoan fire dancing), Tauʻolunga (Tongan dance), Haka (Mauri ceremonial dance), or a combination of these.

Tahitian Dance