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A luau and then aloha

When I admitted to Dara, over a breakfast of loco moco at the Rainbow Lana’i in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, that I’d never been to a luau before, she couldn’t believe it.

“What?” she said. “How can that be?”

I had no idea. “It’s just never worked out,” I told her.

So Dara insisted I go to a luau. With her. Tonight. End of story.

Frankly, I found the whole idea kind of cheesy. And exciting. At the same time. Like going to a strip club.

And I saw, as soon as I arrived, that I wasn’t far off with the strip club analogy. The barely-clothed performers who greeted me with a shell lei when I first walked in could easily get jobs at a men’s club if they ever get tired performing the hula.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

Anyway, here’s what happened at the luau: First I got a mai tai. Then we all stood around and waited for the kalua pig to come out of the imu pit. The pig was then put on stretcher and carried around by a couple of burly bare-chested Hawaiians, as we all oohed and ahhed and got really hungry.

After that we sat down at these long picnic tables and waited for our turn to go get some pig as well as huli huli chicken, Hawaiian paella, lau lau (fish steamed in banana leaves), lomi lomi salmon, and, of course, poi. Got to eat da poi, bruddah.

While we were waiting to get in line to get our food, the entertainment started. You got your hula dancers and fire eaters and guys banging on the drums, though the most amazing act, to me, was this young woman, Taimane Gardener, who comes out and plays the electric ukulele like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, she is the Carlos Santana of ukulele players. People went crazy. When she started doing a wild ukulele version of Miserlou/Pipeline, I practically choked on my kalua pig she was so good. This YouTube video doesn’t show her performing at the luau, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what she can do.


Finally, the show closed with a four-man Samoan fire-knife dancing team. Which, normally, would have been very cool. But following a crazy-bad act like Taimane is tough. So I left before the fire-knife act had finished. Off to the airport. Time to move on. 

Aloha, Hawaii.  

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The God of Aloha

If I took the pineapple wedge out of my mai tai and chucked it off my lanai on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki (which, of course, I would never do), with just a little luck I’d tattoo the bronze head on the lei-draped statue of Duke Kahanamouku who, it seems to me, holds more mana, or spiritual power, than any kahuna, past or present, in all of Hawaii. Despite the fact that The Duke, known as the “father of modern surfing,” died 31 years ago last month.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

It’s amazing how many people I’ve watched sidle up to The Duke and touch his bronze legs shyly or lewdly or reverentially, depending on their persuasion, just about every hour of the day and night.

When I first saw the throngs of people having their photo taken while standing next to him, I figured he was just the Mickey Mouse of Honolulu; a popular icon whose photo proved to the folks back home that they’d really been to Waikiki.

But I think there’s more to it than that. The Duke is the real “Ambassador of Aloha.” Not the aloha of hello and goodbye but the aloha of love, compassion, kindness, grace—the aloha of life.

That’s why you see so many people—particularly women—bring fresh flower leis every morning and put them on his outstretched arms. That’s why every Gidget and Grem from Toledo wants their mom or dad to take a photo of them standing next to The Duke.

He’s not a Hawaiian Mickey Mouse; he’s a Hawaiian god. The god of aloha.

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