The word lū‘au brings to mind some pretty exotic, primal imagery—beautiful, tanned, raven-haired hula girls in raffia grass skirts; muscled, bare-chested fire jugglers, wearing crowns of woven palm leaves; a succulent, imu-roasted pig suspended on bamboo poles; roaring tongues of fire reaching up to the night sky, casting flickering shadows over giant, hand-carved tiki masks.
We, of course, had excited expectations when we learned that our conference hosts, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, were holding a gala lū‘au on the second night of the conference, esp. since lū‘au tickets were an extra $35 a person.
All of the attendees piled into busses, and when we arrived, we could see the peaks of Diamond Head in the distance, and we could hear the sound of beating drums from some indeterminate location as we wound our way through a gorgeous cactus garden.
When we emerged we saw everyone queued up and milling about a paved concrete courtyard. Okay, we figured, they must be preparing the lū‘au for us in some hidden grotto or something. About forty-five minutes later, one of the conference organizers welcomed everyone and invited us to file inside for the buffet line.
Hunh? Inside? Buffet? Hunh?
Yes, our “lū‘au” ended up being a buffet-style dinner inside an air-conditioned community college cafeteria. Granted, the food was delicious, with a number of authentic Hawaiian dishes. However, the surreal blandness of the non-lū‘au became really apparent when they brought out a troupe of geriatric hula dancers.
We enjoyed the performance for what it was, after all, septuagenarian hula dancers need to find gigs where they can, and they seemed talented, even though their song selection had a strong Don Ho easy listening flavor.
The “no one is going to believe this at home” moment really came, though, when they returned from a costume change for their closing number, wearing red, white, and blue sarongs. Then they performed a hula to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Yes, that one.
Alas, I was too stunned to take any pictures.
We really didn’t want to be wet blankets because we realized what a tremendous opportunity this conference was, but we couldn’t help chuckling to ourselves, “Worst…lū‘au…ever.”