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One of my favorite activities when I travel is to discover the culture and traditions of that special spot on the globe on which I find myself, a corner of the world that belongs to those people calling that special spot “home”. Hawaii has a unique culture and an abundance of unique traditions. For me, coming from the U.S. mainland, it was a very exciting and interesting corner of the world, and in many ways so different from my own.

Hawaii is part of a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean called Polynesia. Polynesia is an area bounded in a triangle with the points of the triangle being Hawaii,  Easter Island, and New Zealand (Aotearoa). Within that triangle are many islands including Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, the Marquesas Islands, and Fiji whose people share a common language, customs and traditions.

To get a better understanding of traditional life in Polynesia, we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. The center highlights historic traditions and customs of the islands with shows, village recreations, and interactive activities for visitors. It was informative and a lot of fun as these two old people tried to master some of the old-time games.

As you enter the Center you are greeted by Haman Kalili, said to have invented the “shaka” greeting. For the Hawaiian people the shaka, with only the pinkie and index fingers raised in a wave, is meant to relay the “Aloha spirit” of friendship and understanding. It is said that Kalili lost three fingers working in the sugar cane fields. He took a new position within the industry, giving a signal with a wave to the engineers of the trains moving out of the field area to tell them that all was clear. He also waved to passing children with his hand with the missing fingers. For the people who knew Kalili, his wave always meant, “It’s all right, everything is okay!”, or “Hang loose!”

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Once inside the venue you will travel from island to island, learning about individual islands and activities common in Polynesia. I have put together a gallery of pictures showing some of what we saw and learned.

One of my favorite tours was at Iolani Palace. Before becoming a state within the United States, Hawaii, for a short time, lived in a democratic monarchy. King Kamehameha V was the last descendant of  the Kamehameha monarchy to reign as king of the Hawaiian Islands. Then in 1874 the Hawaiian legislature elected David Kalakaua to the throne. He built this beautiful palace which was completed in 1882. Upon the king’s death in 1891, his sister, Lili’uokalani, became the queen and took up residence in the palace.

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Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign was a troubled time for Hawaii. Businessmen from the United States had complete control of both the sugar and pineapple industries on the islands. They also exerted much influence in the everyday lives of the people, and they favored annexing Hawaii as a territory of the United States. The Hawaiian people, however, were quite happy being Hawaiian and independent. What happened next was not America’s best hour, or at least I do not believe it was.

Lili’uokalani attempted to have a new constitution written, fully restoring all power to the monarchy, which would in turn diminish the power of the outside interests. This led the business leaders to push for quick annexation. When the government of the United States refused to annex the islands, the American businessmen staged a takeover, and in January of 1893, the queen abdicated her throne. For the next nine months she lived in the palace under house arrest. Eventually the Hawaiian Islands became a territory of the United States, and in 1958, Hawaii was granted statehood.

Hawaiian Luau

If you visit Hawaii, you have got to attend a luau. They are so much fun, and the food is absolutely incredible. We attended two luaus. Our favorite was the Chief’s Luau. It was a bit smaller, more intimate and more comfortable than the almost as good luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Hawaiian culture is centered on the importance of family, and everyone is part of the family. This family attitude was displayed by the Chief at his luau, inviting us all to have a good time, make new friends and eat all we want. Everyone sits at long tables, and you cannot help but to meet your neighbors. Our neighbors were from Australia, which made for a great sharing of experiences during dinner.

The star of the show is, of course, the luau pork. I would try, but know I would never be able to duplicate that flavor here in mid-Missouri. There is so much food, it is hard to choose which ones to take…so I took a little of a lot of different things!


Following the meal is the time for entertainment. We were treated to Hawaiian music, singing, dancing, and Jim’s favorite, flame throwing and twirling. But the best part was when they called to the stage all those celebrating anniversaries. Well, that was us…50 years! I received a gorgeous bouquet of Hawaiian flowers and we both were given authentic leis made of traditional Hawaiian flowers Our new Australian friends tried to take a couple pictures for us from a distance…that picture of us dancing, though mighty grainy?…well, I love it!

While in Hawaii I purchased a cookbook…of course. The luau dish I made is really very delicious, though not as amazing looking as some others. My test is: Does Jim like? If the answer is yes, it must be good, because he is a very picky eater!

The dish calls for luau leaves…they are not even sold at Whole Foods on the mainland…so substitute with spinach. When you try this dish, and you should, make sure to use the most mature spinach you can find. More mature spinach gives the dish a better consistency and a better flavor. Enjoy!

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Luau Beef Stew

  • Servings: 6
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This recipe was adapted from “Sam Choy’s Aloha Cuisine: Island Cooking at it Best”


  • 2 pounds mature spinach leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. sea salt (You can use Hawaiian salt, if you can find it)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 pounds stew meat
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups water


  1. Heat oil and saute onions in a large sauce pan until they are translucent.
  2. Brown stew meat.
  3. Add beef stock, water, and 1 Tbsp. salt.
  4. Cook until meat is fork tender.
  5. While the meat is cooking, wash the spinach leaves and remove the toughest stems and veins.
  6. Bring the water, the remaining Tbsp. of salt, and the baking soda to a boil in a large stock pot.
  7. Add the spinach leaves, reduce heat and cook, partially covered for 1 hour.
  8. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the spinach.
  9. When the meat is tender, add the spinach leaves and simmer for 30 minutes.