So, you think you can throw us a Hawaiian Luau?

By Diana Fontaine

During the first weeks of the school year, USD hosts a variety of events in an attempt to build the campus community. For example, to kick off the start of fall semester, USD Dining Services held a luau outside the Student Life Pavilion. Often we enjoy the splendor of these festivities, but miss the cultural significance.

A traditional Native Hawaiian luau is a celebration. Today, Hawaiians host a luau to celebrate important events such as a first birthday or high school graduation. In addition to music and dance, the food prepared has many traditional ties. Some popular dishes include the taro plant steamed with coconut cream and various types of fish.

It’s been a while, but if you can, I ask you to reflect on the entertainment and food options. It seemed as though students were enjoying themselves as they mingled in their plastic leis, but after receiving insight from native Hawaiian and freshman, Anya Littlefield, my perspective completely changed.

“I was really excited at first because I was homesick,” Littlefield said. “San Diego is different and I thought it would be nice to experience a part of home. Once I got there, I was angry because instead of the Kalua pig in the pit, I saw American BBQ pulled pork and Hawaiians don’t even eat BBQ sauce!”

At USD’s luau, there was sushi, broccoli, Chinese food, and potatoes — food most definitely not traditional to Hawaii, let alone cooked at an authentic luau.

“There was sushi. I mean, come on, sushi?” Littlefield continued. “That’s Japanese. To me, it seemed as though USD didn’t even try to have traditional Hawaiian food.”

Former resident of Hawaii and Junior, Courtney Ochi, though she did not attend the event herself as she was studying abroad, when reached for comment, was terse in her analysis of the issue.

“If they were to have a luau and not serve Hawaiian food, that seems really stupid,” Ochi said. “Like seriously, they could have just had L&L cater.”

There wasn’t a taro plant in sight, which is one of the most important and historically significant parts of Hawaiian cuisine and culture. You may be saying, “so what? We aren’t in Hawaii!” But why then, did we name it a ‘luau’?

According to freshman Mandy Echevarria, the difference in dining options was welcome.

“The food was enjoyable because it was a good change to the normal SLP food,” Echevarria said.

“As far as being Hawaiian, maybe they had pineapple, and that’s about it.”

Even Mandy, non-native to Hawaii, realized the mistake USD made when they named this event “The Welcome Week Luau.”

A luau is a sacred cultural Hawaiian tradition that’s been destroyed by its transformation into an American feast. I know that I, for one, blindly participated in the luau; however, learning more about Hawaiian culture has given me insight into the traditional meaning behind it. Every year, we are exposed to various cultural events that have a deep meaning for certain groups of people. If we are to apply these aspects of culture in our lives, then we must be aware of the background and their significance to other people besides ourselves.

I understand that USD was trying to put on an event to welcome everyone back to campus; however, I am appalled that they would call this event a luau. It was far from it. A luau is supposed to be a joyous, gift-giving celebration with close family and friends to honor someone. People gather around the imu pit and watch as men roast the Kalua pig. Traditional Hawaiian music plays in the background with hula dancers front and center. I saw none of this outside the SLP that Tuesday evening.

I am not against a welcome feast at the beginning of the year, but why can’t we call it something else? With my new found knowledge, I expect that the next Welcome Week Luau will incorporate the authentic Hawaiian food and traditions.

A luau is close to the native Hawaiians’ hearts, thus it is important that our ignorance doesn’t distort the meaning.

Even though USD attempted to have a luau, it was a week attempt, at that. It’s a shame when we take someone else’s culture for granted. At the very least, why not bother to learn about the traditions and history that comprise it?

At least learn what a traditional luau is and open your mind to the diverse cultures around you. It will do you good, I promise.