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Annual Kaumakapili Church Luau is as authentic as Hawaii luau gets

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The pork, down to uniform pieces, goes into long, flat plastic bags to be frozen. It will be defrosted in stages during the day of the luau, so that there’s always hot kālua pig.

“We used to have a family, the Kupahus, who did the pigs on the day of the luau,” says Kellie. “They’d start at 3 p.m. the day before and dig up the pigs at 3 a.m., clean them and bring them down hot. That was cutting it too close.”

The heart of Kaumakapili Church is extended Hawaiian families, like Kellie Maunakea’s. Her brothers Trevor and Buddy are on the board, and are mainstays of the pig operation. Her father, Henry, is president of the congregation.

“I’m trying to stay in the background,” laughs Henry. “My daughter’s in charge here.”

On the buffet line, the servers are in high spirits. That's lomilomi salmon, no mushy tomatoes, ready to grace a plate. Photo by Monte Costa.

Kellie, a manager at Macy’s, is 37. Her friend and co-chair Mele Stender is equally young.

“A lot of the older people are getting too old for this,” says Henry. “We need to bring in the younger ones.”

It’s an operation that runs on tradition, and it’s going through a generational change. That can be a problem.

The information on how to make the luau happen is stored in people’s memories. “I’ve been trying to organize things, get things written down,” says Kellie. 

Someone needs to know, for instance, to start six or seven months early, getting permits, ordering hard-to-find items, like 10 gallons of opihi, flown in from the Big Island, more of the much-prized little limpet than you might expect exists in the state.

The recipes, too, have been passed down from generation to generation. Aike Grace has been in charge of the chicken long rice for only two or three years, a job passed down from Uncle David Kaneao.

Like the pig, preparing the long rice is a multiday process: cooking the chicken, deboning it, clarifying the broth and chilling it at just the right moment. On the day of the luau, the crew will cook batch after batch, with a long wooden paddle in five-gallon square pans, so there is always warm and fresh.

Aika offers me a test taste. It’s remarkable, plenty of chicken, a nice tinge of ginger, fresh cut green onion. “These noodles, I don’t like this kind, they are soaking too much of the broth,” he says.
“Yes, but they’re absorbing the flavors,” I say.

Aika shrugs. “This is the Kaumakapili way,” he says. “I like it soupier with less chicken and more ginger. But there’s a tradition here. Before I go farther, I get Uncle David to taste them. If he says they’re right, then they’re right.”

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Doing a Hawaii-themed luau away from Hawaii
Where to find Hawaii gifts and souvenirs that are really from Hawaii: A list
Tales from a Waikiki "on-the-beach" luau

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