Lesson Plan: Etymology of Luau
“Luau” is a word that conjures up images of a Hawaiian feast. However, “luau” actually had a different meaning before the 1850s: chicken baked in coconut milk with taro, usually the main dish of the feast. Instead of “luau,” the Hawaiian feast was called pa‘ina or ‘aha‘aina.
According to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elberts in Hawaiian Dictionary, the first known recorded mention of the word “luau” as a feast is in a 1856 issue of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. However, a search on Chronicling America shows a previous mention of “luau” as a feast in another newspaper.
In this lesson, students will search for articles from Hawaii newspapers before 1857 on Chronicling America. They will contain the first mentions of “luau” in writing. “Luau” was used in different ways, and students will determine how they were used in context.
For this lesson’s learning objectives, the students will participate in collaborative learning through group work, gain information literacy, use the newspaper as a primary resource and the dictionary to find a word’s definition and history, and reflect on how language changes over time.
By the end of the lesson, the student will be able to do the following:
– Conduct a keyword search on the Chronicling America database.
– Use the newspaper as a primary resource.
– Determine a word’s meaning from its context.
– Use the Oxford Dictionary to find a word’s definition and history.
– Reflect on how language changes over time.
1. Have the students individually write down what they think the definition of “luau” is. Then lead a class discussion in which students say their definition. Read aloud to your students Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elberts’ definitions of “luau” in Hawaiian Dictionary:
1. Young taro tops, especially as baked with coconut cream and chicken or octopus.
2. Hawaiian feast, named for the taro tops always served at one; this is not an ancient name, but goes back at least to 1856, when so used by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser; formerly a feast was pa‘ina or ‘aha‘aina.
3. Greenish meat in a turtle, considered a delicacy; so named because the color of its meat suggested the color of taro tops.
4. Same as limu luau, a seaweed.
5. Kind of soft porous stone, as used in the ground oven.
2. Introduce Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) to your students. Show them how to search for articles with the word “luau” in the Hawaii newspapers before 1857 on Chronicling America. On the Chronicling America site, do an advanced search:
a. Click on the “Advanced Search” tab.
b. In Select Year(s), select “1836” and “1856” respectively.
c. In Select State(s), select “Hawaii.”
d. In …with any of the words:, input “luau.”
e. Click Search.
The search should look like the search in the following link:
3. Divide the students into groups of two to three students and have them conduct search for articles with “luau.” The word “luau” was used in different ways. In groups, the students can answer the following questions:
a. Look for the mention of “luau” in the July 12, 1851 issue of Polynesian. Provide the URL to this issue, the sentence that uses “luau,” and the definition used?
Article URL: Polynesian., July 12, 1851, Page 34, Image 2
The mention of “luau”: “The meats were served after that delicious and peculiarly native fashion Luau-ed (cooked under ground with greens) and was capitally done up, in fact the whole received ample justice.”
Definition: cooking food in an underground oven
b. Find the August 5, 1854 issue in the Polynesian and the July 2, 1856 issue in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser that use “luau.” Provide the URLs to these issues, the sentences that use “luau,” and the definition used?
Article URLs: Polynesian., August 05, 1854, Page 50, Image 2
“Marriage of His Majesty Kamehameha IV”
The Pacific commercial advertiser., July 02, 1856, Image 2
The mentions of “luau”:
Polynesian: “Besides the more public exercises of the day, there was much private feasting among the Hawaiians, and signals for a luau were observable all over town and through the vallies. … The luau at Capt. Adams’ given by Mechanic Fire Company No. 2, to their officers, and many invited guests, went off with much spirit and satisfaction and was highly creditable to the Committee of Arrangements.”
Pacific Commercial Advertiser: “On the following day the palace grounds thrown open to the native population, largely of whom visited the King and Queen, and … a luau (or native feast,) prepared for them was also served up at the residence of Dr. …”
Definition: a Native Hawaiian feast
c. Is your original definition of “luau” the same as the one in the July 12, 1851 issue of Polynesian? If not, how is it different?
d. Why do you think the definition of luau changed over time? With the rise of the foreign population in Hawaii in the 1800s, do you think the foreigners affected this change? Why or why not?
Answer: It’s actually not known why the meaning of “luau” changed. Possible causes can include foreigners using “luau” differently from its original meaning and associating “luau” with the feast rather than only underground cooking.
e. Can you think of any contemporary word that changed in meaning over time?
haole – without breath of life to foreigner or Caucasian
3. Have each group report their answers and discuss how they determined them.
4. For homework, assign your students to choose a Hawaiian word and research and write about the history of the word (meaning and year) and its current definition. You may refer your students to the Hawaiian dictionary.
– Alice Kim