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Annual Kaumakapili Church Luau is as authentic as Hawaii luau gets

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“People you never see except at the lū‘au show up,” says Kellie. “People’s friends, friends of the church.”

Kaumakapili is not a rich church, but it has a lot of friends. It distributes food and clothing to the homeless in the neighborhood. Its parish hall gives home to many organizations, including one of the largest weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the state. In return, 20 AA members show up to work the luau.

At 10 a.m., a line of women walk in, in Kaumakapili T-shirts and blue pants that say WCCC.  These are women inmates from the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua, here to do community service. All through the day, people talk about how hard these women work.

As anticipation begins to build, the kahu, Rev. Richard Kamanu, steps to the center of the room. He leads a prayer, noting that the church and God’s love are open to anyone, no matter what their life situation. The value of the luau, he says, is summed up in the injunction from the first epistle of John to love one another: “Aloha kekahi i kekahi.” That is the luau’s theme and its point.

It’s not about the food.

Except suddenly it is about the food. It’s almost 10:30 a.m., and even though the takeout isn’t supposed to start until 11, cars are lining up. Every takeout ticket has sold out. By 5 p.m., this group has to put out 2,500 meals.

Everyone eats luau style, together at long tables. Photo by Monte Costa.

The takeout meals aren’t just plates. Everything comes packaged individually, first in its own cup or bag, then in a box.

A patient group of volunteers has assembled 2,500 white cake boxes, stamping them with the church name and the injunction to please refrigerate if you’re not going to eat right away.

Everyone lines up around long tables. At the first station—this is my job for a while, not requiring much ability—you open the box and place a Styrofoam cup of poi inside. (Fifteen members of the Kihewa family have come at 4 a.m., diluted the poi and filled each container by hand, with a little flip of the wrist.)

In addition to the poi—some of the mildest and best I’ve tasted—the box moves on to the next station, where it gets a cup of chicken long rice, scooped fresh into a container, still hot from Uncle Aika’s crew.

Then kalua pig, again scooped fresh into a Styrofoam cup.

There are actually two assembly lines. In a back room, a table of ladies is mixing lomilomi salmon, the non-mushy tomatoes, green but not round onions, and a remarkable quantity of salt salmon. Others dish it into plastic containers using slotted spoons. “No water,” a sign on the table reminds everyone.

Another table is loading a smaller plastic cup with swordfish-limu poke and opihi.

Young girls bring the cups by the trayful into the main room. Both poke and lomi go into each box. Then a pineapple wedge in a plastic bag. On top goes a plate, patiently assembled by yet another team of ladies early that morning. The plate contains a slice of baked sweet potato, dense haupia and a square of yellow cake that doesn’t look like much, but turns out rich and delicious.

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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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