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Annual Kaumakapili Church Luau is as authentic as Hawaii luau gets

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That’s how you have to do it, says Kellie. “If you are going to chair this luau, you need to know that Auntie So-and-So is this way and how Uncle So-and-So can be.”

The key is to change slowly. To try things and see if the elders approve.

“How we do it is the whole point,” she says. “It’s not the money. This luau used to raise all our operating funds for the year, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s about patience and understanding and learning to work together. This is church.”

When I come back six days later, the next Friday evening, I see how things proceed with patience and understanding, but get done anyway.

On this Friday before the luau, work is supposed to go on till 9 or 10 p.m. On Friday, everyone chops—limu (seaweed) for the poke, pineapple wedges, tomatoes for the lomilomi salmon. (Of course, that’s not all that’s going on. Another crew of volunteers is baking cakes and making the coconut pudding called haupia. Aika’s crew is precooking noodles for the long rice.)

When I arrive at 6 p.m., everyone seems relaxed. The chopping’s all done! Hours early.

The ladies of Leimomi Ho's halau practice weekly at the Kaumakapili Church parish hall. In return, they dance at the annual luau. Photo by Monte Costa.

Someone has loaned the chopping crew a $2,500 commercial food processor. They took it because he was a friend, but doubted they’d use it. A year or so earlier, some had brought a manual device that allowed you to dice tomatoes. When whoever was manning the device got too tired to push hard, the tomatoes got mashed instead of cut. Bad.

But this time, a test batch proved to even the skeptical elders that the food-processing machine worked. Since I’d come to see the crews at work, I thought I might as well leave.

One of my new aunties, Claudette, took my arm. “You’re going to eat with us, aren’t you?” she asked. She’d known me all of perhaps 10 minutes.

Part of putting on the luau is feeding the volunteers. Dinner that night is, ironically, Mexican food, prepared by one of the younger parishioners with catering experience.

At my table, there’s buzz among the elders about the new machine. “It didn’t make the tomatoes mushy, did it?” someone asks. “No, they’re perfect.” Nods of approval.

Around us, folks are beginning to get the upstairs at the parish hall ready for the next night’s lū‘au—plywood tables on sawhorses, carts of folding chairs pulled out from under the stage.

In the kitchen, Anna Lakalo, her daughter Kai and her granddaughter Pu'u make cornbread for tomorrow’s breakfast, soup and sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch. Nobody working will go hungry.
The next morning dawns bright and early, lū‘au day. I arrive to find 100 people working.

One is local TV reporter Mahealani Richardson. “I always bring friends and work for a couple hours,” she says. Her specialty is dishing up long rice, because, “It smells so good.” 

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Doing a Hawaii-themed luau away from Hawaii
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Tales from a Waikiki "on-the-beach" luau

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