Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a well-known Hawaiian legend about mischievous spirits who play tricks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands:
CT: “Menehune were natives of the Hawaiian Islands and were really small in stature. They have been known to look like little elves or fairies, but not really fairies, more like trolls and they lived deep in the forest away from civilization. They have been known to trick and mess with the tourists who come to the islands for vacation, like they tend to play practical jokes on the tourists like they would misplace your things while on your stay or they would pull you hair. They would also pinch or poke you. Mostly just silly stuff.”
How or where did you learn this legend from?
CT: “Well, my grandparents would always share this story with me and my sister when we were little. They’ve told us that the Menehune were like the first people to come to Hawaii and live on the islands. My grandparents would always say to us that whenever me and my sister did something bad or went against our parent’s rules, that is was the menehune that made us to it, that they influenced us to do it, like in a playful way.”
So the Menehune were not scary or meant to scare anyone?
CT: “No not at all. They, from what I have been told when I was little is that they are just playful spirits that mess around with young kids. It was never a scary thing or something to be afraid of. Nothing in that nature.”
In what kind of context would you share this Hawaiian legend?
CT: “Um well I guess you would share this legend to those who are going to Hawaii on vacation. Like I’ve made a joke about it before to my friends who were going to Hawaii during the summer. I would tell them to watch out for the Menehune while they are there because it’s been known in my culture that they mess with the tourists and their things so its just something fun to share with other people and kind of make them aware of this legend.”
Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?
CT: “Um, well it does in the sense that it is part of my Hawaiian culture and that it’s been shared and passed down through my family and it’s pretty well known. Like my friends and their families have spoken about it, mostly in a fun and joking way.”
These mischievous spirits have been known to pull pranks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands for leisurely reasons, especially in more remote areas of the islands. Although there is no official record of a Menehune siting, legend has it that their spirits still live on and play on the minds of those who visit the Hawaiian Islands.
Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a traditional Hawaiian celebration that is a large part of her Hawaiian culture.
CT: “Hawaiian Luaus are so much fun. Basically, they are big parties with a ton of different food and of course music. It’s like the ultimate celebration for any important event in life like birthdays, graduations, and weddings. When I graduated from high school, my family threw a luau at our home. It was great. All of my friends and family members came over to celebrate. It was just one giant party.”
In what context or location are luaus held?
CT: “Well luau parties vary in range, depending on how dedicated you and your family are to the Hawaiian culture. Like for my family, we often have these parties because it’s a fun way to celebrate major events that happen in all of our lives, but our traditions have become somewhat Americanized. For example, it is traditional to serve poi, but we don’t really do that anymore. Instead we replace it with like chips and dip. But we tend to have luaus in our backyard of our home.”
What kind of dish is poi?
CT: “Poi is made from the taro plant and it is made by mashing and whipping until it forms in to a liquid like consistency. Honestly, I am not a fan of poi. I think it has a strange, unique taste and the texture is kind of weird, but my grandparents love it. It’s a kind of dish that you either love or hate, there’s no in between and it’s traditionally eaten with your hands only. Like all of the food that is at a luau, you are supposed to eat with your hands.”
What kind of other dishes are commonly found at a luau?
CT: “We serve different types of meat like pulled pork, that is usually roasted over a fire pit, which is called the ‘Imu”, chicken, salmon, poki, which is a mixture of seafood like tuna and a ton of different fruits. The list goes on.”
Do luaus have any significant meaning to you?
CT: “Ya definitely! Being Hawaiian, family is a huge part of our culture and having luaus or going to a luau is a great way to celebrate with your family and friends for a special event or holiday. It brings everyone together to have fun with some great food and music. It’s just a great big celebration and feast that I love to be a part of and it is a fun way to continue to uphold my Hawaiian culture.”
Throughout the world, feasting is a universal way to celebrate happy and important life events such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, commencements from high school or college, etc. However, the Hawaiian culture has sure changed the way people celebrate with their friends and family. After the Polynesians settled on the central pacific islands, their culture and traditions started to form and spread among the island locals. Polynesians had much influence on Hawaii’s luau traditions, which has now integrated into the foods and festivities of Hawaii. It was interesting to learn how the informant’s luau traditions have partially become Americanized in that they use utensils with their meals and replace certain dishes like poi with chips and dip. Luaus are still a large part of the Hawaiian culture as a way to mark a milestone in a person’s life and it is a festivity that is meant to be celebrated with family and friends.
“Luaus are gatherings that you can find and go to, especially in the touristy areas of Hawaii. Basically, people eat Hawaiian food like lomi salmon (tomatoes and smoke salmon), lau lau (meat-like chicken of fish or pork-wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), long rice (clear-looking spaghetti noodles in a soup), poi (ground up taro made into a mush), and kalua pig (traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground). Luaus are a time to celebrate the Hawaiian culture. Not only is there Hawaiian food, but there’s also Hawaiian music, which is usually performed by a local band or singer from the islands. These bands and singers perform Hawaiian songs with ukuleles and other instruments. Also, hula dancing to slow Hawaiian songs is a popular form of entertainment. Another type of dance, the Tahitian dance, involves women who dress up in a really big skirt and wear coconut bras and move their hips around really fast. There are also fire dancers, usually men who spin around sticks that are lit at the ends and toss around a baton thrower.”
By living in Hawaii her entire life, my informant has been exposed to luaus all the time. Luaus are always going on and there aren’t any specific dates as to when a luau is held. Luaus occur in hot tourist spots like the Waikiki strip or in the countryside on the North Shore, where people hang out at the beaches. There’s also a Polynesian cultural center at the North Shore that holds luaus for tourists. Luaus have become so popular that they’re popular among both Hawaiian natives and tourists. She doesn’t attend luaus whenever she wants. People hold luaus as parties, so she goes whenever she’s invited.
Antonette thinks that luaus are great. She considers them as parties that she attends to see her friends and family, only everything in a luau is about the Hawaiian culture. If anything, it’s also a cultural experience, so the main idea is to celebrate the Hawaiian culture and spread it around to others. She likes going to luaus when she has the chance because of the food, music, performances, and dancing. Luaus allow my informant to eat Hawaiian food because she doesn’t normally eat Hawaiian food on a daily basis. Also, she likes some of the bands that play Hawaiian or reggae music because she doesn’t listen to that type of music often, so it’s cool and exciting to see live bands and to dance on stage with friends.
When I traveled to Hawaii on vacation five years ago, I was able to experience an authentic Hawaiian luau. Of course, the luau was staged for tourists, but I witnessed actual Hawaiian activities, food, and music. I can definitely see why both natives and tourists enjoy going to luaus. I was never bored during the luau because there were so many activities going on. The Hawaiians even allowed tourists to participate by learning the different types of dances. In addition to observing, tourists are able to learn part of Hawaiian culture.
Everything that my informant described to me was there at the luau that I attended. I was able to observe a very entertaining Hawaiian tradition that I think is important to maintain. Hawaii has such an incredible and unique past, and it is extremely different from the rest of the United States. It’s important to continue the tradition so that future generations can take pleasure in attending such a distinctive custom.