The Luau: Gender Equality Smorgasbord (with pineapples on top)

Hawaii produces a disproportionate amount of awesome for being such a small speck in the middle of the Pacific.  Surfing, hula, and the now imminent luau, commonly used to bring in birthdays and graduations, are all from my native lands.

Oahu_ahupuaa
Ahupua’a divisions on Oahu


One of my favorite Hawaiian inventions is the system of land division. Islands (mokus) were divided into mokupunis, usually wedge-shaped units that ran from mountain crest to the ocean shore.  Each mokupuni was divided into an ahupua’a which was ruled by a chief (ali’i); the ahupua’a was then divided into 2-3 ‘ili.  Divisions were based not on the size of the land or on the power of the chief, but on the even distribution of natural resources.  Genius, right?

Damn skippy.  Of course, not all traditional Hawaiian practices are worthy of emulation.

Old school religious practices across the eight Hawaiian islands once required that men and women eat separately – a practice observed by many other cultures, both in the past, and present. Women were also sent into isolation during their cycles, and forbidden from eating celebratory foods.

queenkaahumanu
Queen Ka’ahumanu

Segregation rituals surrounding food were officially put to an end in 1819 thanks to King Kamehemeha II.  Influenced by Queen Ka’ahumanu, the king encouraged desegregation by creating the luau, where men and women could celebrate together, eating the same party foods like poi, kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon and sweet potatoes.

These extravagant co-ed parties soon became a tradition in royal circles.  Fast forward nearly 200 years, and we now see them everywhere from the shores of Waikiki to frat parties on the East Coast.

Having just attended one for a friend’s birthday in Baltimore last weekend, I’m grateful for the reminder that one person can bring so many together in celebration, for the unique luau vibe, and for the scrumptious (and rather meaty) food that takes me right back to my childhood – coconut bra and grass skirt optional.

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