Culturally Nice Hawaiian Programming

My awesome Grad School Peer-Mentor sent me this entry from the PUBYAC ListServ last week.  Someone wrote to the Hawaii State Library about how to put on a culturally sensitive Hawaiian Luau.  If I had seen the post, I would have, of course, referred them to Talk Story for some ideas, but apparently this one slipped past me (probably because I only read half the stuff from PUBYAC), and the Hawaii State Library wrote a great response which I will re-post here for everyone looking for ideas or thinking of ideas to get a Talk Story grant next year.

Below is the response posted in full, and I plan on taking some of their ideas and formatting them into another Hawaiian Storytime for the Talk Story website.  It’s responses like these that remind me how much I don’t know and how much I miss about NHPIs by living on the continent.  Which also makes me a little uncomfortable when people look to me as some kind of authority on anything… I feel like there is so much to learn, and thanks to people like the ones who ask questions and get answers from the right people, there are always opportunities to expand our knowledge!

And onto the knowledge:

Thank you for writing to the Hawaii State Library for information for your Hawaii-themed Summer Reading Program finale.? We have been discussing what kinds of practical suggestions we can make for a program that will be easy enough to present in a library while at the same time being respectful of Hawaiian cultural practices.? Hawaiian culture is all too often presented as a caricature.? Think about the Beverly Hillbillies or Lil Abner in contrast to?genuine Appalachian folk culture in and you may understand what I mean.? I would like to suggest some crafts and activities that you could adapt to present as a Summer Reading finale in a library that derive from Hawaiian cultural practices and suggest some web resources where you could get background information that might show some of the differences between the real thing and your library version.

You asked how a real luau is set up.? While there are many elements to a luau, I think one consistent feature that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce at a library program would be an imu, or underground pit oven, in which food such as a whole pig or, nowadays, a turkey is cooked.? You can see a description of the process in wikipedia: and you can find various descriptions of how to build an imu on the Internet: Unless you are planning to have an imu at your event, I am not sure you should call it a luau.?? However, there is no reason not to have a Summer Fun in Hawaii event.

Activities:? Look at some websites on makahiki games. ?For example:

Try looking at other makahiki sites as well, including: for images associated with makahiki.?

You may be surprised at some of the games you didn?t realize were played in Hawaii, such as Huki huki ? tug of war or ?ulu maika ? a form of lawn bowling, involving trying to throw a stone (or a ball) between two sticks about six inches apart.? If you have a grassy slope available you could also try holua sledding ? downhill sledding without snow, using either tough leaves or wood to slide on.? You could try it with large sheets of cardboard.

There are plenty of Hawaiian crafts you can adapt to a library event.? A simple lei to make is one made of yarn, construction paper flowers, and cut-up straws.? Here is one site with instructions.? If you have a flower die-cut, use that, or any simple flower to cut out and put a hole through the center.? There are many sites that give more background about Hawaiian lei.

You can look at some sites that explain lauhala weaving and the significance of the hala (pandanus) tree to Hawaiian culture.?

You could adapt a simple lauhala craft using construction paper.? Here is a photo of a lauhala woven fish, and a site that shows a very similar fish made from ribbon.

Instructions for a lauhala fish.? You can substitute strips of construction paper for the strips of palm frond.?

1. Begin by cutting 2 lengths of palm 20″. Fold in half. Insert the base of #1 into #2 to form a “V” shape. The right palm strip is always on top.
2. Leave the two front strips dangle.
3. Taking the back strips, bring #1 around and to the left.
4. Take #2, go behind and down through the loop in the center. Slip the right front top strip back in place.
5. Continue with #2; loop over #1 and weave into same loop and step 4.
6. Turn the fish over taking #2 and bend over.
7. Take the bottom strip and go under the 2 remaining strips and roll over and lay along side.
8. Take next lower right strip and weave over and under. This completes one side of the fish.
9. Flip fish over, take top right strip and lay over as step 7 then weave as step 8.
10. Trim ends. You may add pieces for a tail.

I have done a simplified version of this as a preschool craft, using four strips each of 2 colors of construction paper and simply weaving them into a diamond shape without the looping in the version above.? Use strips that are about 1 inch by 10 inches.? When you have woven about half the length of each strip together, cut off the inner strips.? Leave the outer strips long and cut them to form fins and tail.? I haven?t found a website describing the simplified version.? It looks similar but is flat, woven like a square placemat with long ends at one side.?  You can also look for websites that describe tapa (Polynesian) or kapa (Hawaiian) and describe how kapa cloth is made from bark.? The next site describes printing on tapa. You might be able to adapt an activity using brown paper (like paper bags) or butcher paper.? You need to crumple and uncrumple it until it is soft.? You could try printing on it using traditional Hawaiian geometric designs, using either stamps or stencils.? You could also google Hawaiian petroglyphs to look at images for more design ideas, even though petroglyph images would not normally be used on tapa. For some craft ideas that may be less authentically Hawaiian, but easier for you to work with, I suggest you go to Tammy Yee?s website.? She is a local illustrator with many books for children and her site suggests several crafts, some specific to Hawaii and some not.? You could use her pueo (native Hawaiian owl) and honu (Hawaiian green sea tur
tle) paper bag puppets to share some of indigenous Hawaiian wildlife.? We have used these at some of our story times here at the Hawaii State Library.? By the way, I would avoid anything that suggests we have parrots in Hawaii, since we don?t.? I saw some sites that sell luau party decorations, including parrots.? Nope.

Another activity you could try is to go to one of the websites like that translate non-Hawaiian names into Hawaiian names and give everyone a nametag with their Hawaiian name.

If you are doing food: yes to coconuts, pineapple, mango, sugar cane, bananas, etc.? You can order poi from various online vendors, but I doubt that the children would enjoy it.? There are lots of online recipes for haupia, which is easy to make as long as you can get access to canned coconut milk.? Try or other websites.? Baked coconut mochi is not hard to make, but I don?t know if you could get access to mochiko, rice flour.? Kulolo is a more traditional luau food, but that involves finding taro root, which I think would be even harder to get.

If there is someone in your community who has taken hula lessons, then go ahead and have that person try to teach a simple hula.? However, if you don?t, I would urge you NOT to simply make up your own steps while playing Hawaiian music.? Hula is a language, where every gesture has a specific meaning.? But even if you don?t do hula, by all means get hold of some Hawaiian music CDs and play Hawaiian music during your event.

I don?t know if you are planning on telling or reading stories, but I recommend Maui stories, such as how Maui pulled the islands up, or Maui slowing down the sun (which is a story that involves tapa). Maui is a trickster character, and his stories tend to be humorous and appropriate for children.? Pele (the volcano goddess) stories are more likely to be sacred, and you have to be a bit more careful with them.? I am not saying don?t tell them, but you have to be respectful and know which ones to tell and how.? Also if you plan to use a story like Punia and the Sharks, which is pretty widely available, remember that sharks are not EVIL in Hawaiian culture. They are guardian spirits. Even though Punia tricks the sharks, this isn?t a story of good against evil.?

Several of the librarians here at the Hawaii State Library consulted to work on these suggestions.? Please have fun with your event.? An important thing to remember is that you are representing a culture and while you will not, cannot, and are not expected to be authentic, if you?take the time to develop at least a superficial understanding of some authentic cultural activities, you will provide a richer experience to your participants as you adapt them to fit into what is practical to present in a library program in your area.? We certainly don’t expect you to draw on everything we have suggested above.? We are trying to provide a range of suggestions so you can choose what will work best for your library. Vicky Dworkin, Children’s Librarian

Hawaii State Library
Edna Allyn Room for Children
478 S. King St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
ph: (808)586-3510 fax:(808)586-3584


One thought on “Culturally Nice Hawaiian Programming

  1. I liked their suggestions, but thought it was a bit limiting to not call it a luau simply because you don’t have an imu. I think simulating how the pig is put into the ground, cooked and raised would work just as well. I think it’s funny too because even the “luau”s in Hawaii who do do a good job can’t cook the pig in an imu because the health department won’t let them. If that is the case the luau as we know it is a pretty dead form. I did love the games. It is amazing how many of them are so universal like the tug of war and lawn bowling. I understand the hula part completely. Some great ideas, and honestly, even if you did live in the islands – listening to KINE in the mornings – even some of the simplest questions regarding local history or the Hawaiian culture some of the locals don’t get!

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