Native Hawaiians brought some of their feasting traditions with them from Polynesia. However, recent scholarship suggests that these feasts weren’t lavish, celebratory meals, much like you might see at what’s called a “luau” today.
In fact, the name “luau” was essentially a mistake, when an 1856 edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser mistakenly gave these feasts this name. Lūʻau actually refers to taro tops often served at these meals. Before this mis-naming, these events were called pāʻina (meal, small party with dinner) or ʻahaʻaina (feast, banquet).
If you attend a luau in Hawaiʻi today, you’ll experience rituals, dances, songs, food, and practices from all over the Pacific, including places like Hawaiʻi, Tahiti, Samoa, Rarotonga, New Zealand, Tonga, and more. These events can be a fun experience. However, it’s worth noting that they’re not necessarily representative of the pre-arrival traditions of the Native Hawaiians.
If you spend time in Hawaiʻi, you may also get invited to a baby lūʻau. These parties are closer to ʻahaʻaina and usually celebrate a child’s first birthday. The tradition hearkens back to the days when a child living to their first birthday was a big deal, and it’s a tradition that’s shared by other cultures globally.