Friday, October 29, 2010

Ukuleles, Flowered Leis, and a Roasted Pig

Colorful and fragrant lei around my neck: Check
Bright yellow flower behind my right ear: Check
Decorative wrap skirt: Check
Ready to enter into an authentic Hawaiian luau: Check
The island of Oahu can be described as a world of its own. If you’ve ever visited its neighboring islands, you will be quick to see that Oahu is filled with people who are all about the fast-paced lifestyle; similar to those living in New York, for example. Stepping out onto its streets, Oahu provides excellent night-life, eateries, and beachside strolls. However, if one wishes to experience a night in Oahu, one filled with good food, great entertainment, and unique tradition; then one must attend one of Oahu’s many luaus.
Having attended one of these myself 14 years ago (I was just 11 at the time), I can say that even at my young age, it was quite an entertaining experience. My family and I chose to take part in the Paradise Cove luau during our stay in Oahu. The hotel where we were staying allowed for employees of Paradise Cove, to come and pick up attendees and take us to the luau. We lucked out and received what would be like a “host” on our shuttle. Not only did he keep us entertained with jokes and information about various buildings and Oahu history, he made us feel like our luau had already begun. His bright red, flowered shirt stood out against his black slacks and I was beginning to feel more and more anxious to take part in this great Hawaiian spectacle.

My mom
Upon arriving at Paradise Cove, the setting could not have been more perfect. Not only was the sun hanging low in the sky, casting shades of orange and yellow onto the ocean below, but the warm breeze could be felt against my skin – two additions that could only help to make this a beautiful evening.
Met by players dressed in grass skirts, coconut bras, and flowery leis, we were greeted with the welcoming word “aloha.” One thing that I noticed quite quickly, entering into our luau, was that everyone seemed so friendly and welcoming. Of course, this could be due to the fact that it is their job and to make tourists feel unimportant would drive away business; however, with each person it seemed truly genuine. That is, except for the older woman who was handing out flowers for the women to wear behind their ears.
“Right or left?” She asked.
“Excuse me?” I asked, unsure as to what she was asking me.
“Right or left?” She asked again.
I stood there completely confused by the question she continued to ask. What was she asking me right or left for? Was I supposed to guess and hope I guessed right? I didn’t see anyone going a particular direction, just these women slipping flowers behind the ears of other women.
“Are you married or not?” She asked, obviously aggravated by my lack of knowledge regarding this issue. Now, let me ask…if you saw a young girl, who was obviously not the appropriate age for marriage, would you really be asking if she was married? And secondly, would you get snippy because she is young and has no clue about your traditions? If you answered yes, well…I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. However, if you said no…well, kudos to you.
“Not married,” I answered hesitantly, and now deathly afraid to lower my head so she could place the flower behind my right ear.  Moving along, I could see various games being played, such as spear throwing, rolling different types of rocks across the sand, and what looked to be like tubes that were shooting out darts. My dad, being the socialite that he is, decided that he would try his hand at spear throwing.
With his grass skirt secured around his waist, he was officially ready to take part in the Hawaiian sporting event. This of course, led to his involvement in the Hukilau ceremony; an event that allows guests to help pull in the net that traps fish, all while the Hawaiians chant and blow the conch shell.
Now, my dad can’t take all the credit for getting involved because my sister and I did as well. We may have not pulled the nets in from the ocean or thrown spears, but what we did was much better. It was something that I am proud to say that I took part in, and although I didn’t master it, I sure did try my best. What we did required some serious focus and attention as we took instruction from our Hawaiian leaders – we did the hula. Yes, that’s right…my sister and I stood among a crowd of others and attempted to shake our hips and move like the pros. I emphasize the word ‘attempted’ because I can’t foresee a career in hula dancing in our near futures, but that’s okay because it was fun while it lasted. (That's me in the back row with the white sleeveless shirt. My sister is the blond next to me)
The events at Paradise Cove do not stop there though. As the sun continues to set, the traditional Imu ceremony begins. With the crowd gathering around, a vast production unfolds. Not only are there ceremonial dances taking place, but two men step into the center to unearth the cooked pig. To see your dinner come up from an underground cooker is truly a sight. Hanging upside down, the pig is carried off to be prepared for our feast. I have to admit, I love animals and I’m all for animal rights, but that pig looked delicious!

Once we are made aware of the show getting ready to take place, we took our seats at a long wooden table. The way it is set up is that you eat among others; sharing in the feast that they provide. Looking at the plate before me, I could feel my mouth watering at the delicious pig that had been cooking just for this special occasion. Along with the pig was white rice, pineapple, hot buttery rolls, and a salad. When I looked at the corner of my plate however, I noticed a small pile of something that was a mix of purple and gray. Looking at my parents, I was unsure about eating it.
“It’s poi,” my mom informed me.
Looking at it with hesitation, I decided that you only live once. Now here’s my advice to you: If you taste this delicacy known as “poi,” make sure you have a nice, big, tall glass of water to wash it down. Tasting like what I would imagine chalk and paste to taste like, I tried not to show my disgust while sitting at this elegant feast. Luckily for me, everyone else in my family seemed to harbor the same feelings towards the purplish-gray goop.
Happy to let it sit alone at the top of the plate, I finished off the rest of my delicious meal and readied myself for the show. The people of Paradise Cove do not disappoint when it comes to show time. Watching it all unfold in front of me, I watched as men stood in the background, beating the tall drums in front of them, all while Hawaiian women danced to fast-paced, authentic Hawaiian music. Fire breathers accompanied them as they lit their torches and lit up the sky with fire. I felt myself literally enthralled by the scene before me. The music, the drums, the dancing, all of it was so captivating that I couldn’t keep up with all the movement on stage. I can remember sitting there with the biggest smile on my face, wondering how in the world these dancers and performers were doing the things they were doing.
Leaving the luau that night, it was obvious how pleased we were with the experienced we had been given. From the food, the games, the show, and the ceremonial traditions, I can’t think of a better way to experience Hawaii and its culture. It is one thing to travel to its beautiful islands and take in the scenery, its beaches, and maybe even its volcanoes, but to attend a Hawaiian luau; you are getting the whole package and more. It is a fabulous way to experience Hawaiian culture and take part in its traditions…how many times are you going to be able to say you did something like that?


judy said...

Nicole, it is so interesting to read your blogs. It is nice to hear your experience and what your thoughts and memories are compared to mine. It also amazes me that as a child you had a true and everlasting experience and that is what it should be about. You know me, I always said, "we are making memories". Memories that I treasure and I know you will now.

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