Are These ‘Traditional’ or New Words and meanings to the lexicon in Hawaiʻi?
While we use them in common language, and most often think of them as traditional Hawaiian words, it seems some words are relatively new to the islands and not part of the traditional Hawaiian language. Let’s take a look.
To many, the lūʻau is the quintessential experience and expression of Hawaiian dining and hospitality. The reality is, it’s a relatively new word.
Traditionally, the ʻahaʻaina or pāʻina were the calls to feast and party together. These feasts marked special occasions — such as reaching a significant life milestone, victory at war, the launching of a new canoe or a great endeavor. They believed in celebrating these occasions with their friends and families.
In an April 1, 1850 story in ‘The Friend,’ the term lūʻau is used (possibly for the first time – in a translation of ‘Visit of the French sloop of war Bonite, to the Sandwich Islands, in 1836,’) stating, “At the King’s order the luau was served up. A gastronomic feast is called luau at the Sandwich Islands.”
“It takes its name from an indispensable dish of young taro leaves boiled, or cooked in fat. In an instant, the cloth was covered with young pigs, fowl, sweet potatoes, luau, etc – all these having been enveloped in leaves and cooked in the earth by the means of red hot stones.” (The Friend, April 1, 1850)
It’s also not clear if this is the first reference to “lūʻau;” but it predates what Pukui notes as the first use of the term ‘luau,’ where she says it goes back at least to 1856, when it was used in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. The term “lūʻau” is mentioned again in references to the wedding celebration on Alexander Liholiho and Emma Rooke, when on June 19, 1856 they became known as King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. (This may be the reference Pukui was referring to.)
It was a sad day when Arakawas in Waipahu (operating from 1909 to 1995) closed its doors. Gone was the assortment of colors and sizes of palaka wear (the shirts were originally only blue and white,) as well as the myriad needs filled by the diversity and depth of the merchandise in the store. Arakawas headed the growth of the palaka shirt.
Peter Young Kaeo (1836 – 1880), resident of the leprosy settlement at Kalaupapa, reported in a letter to his cousin Queen Emma, dated November 4, 1873, that he recently visited the settlement store and there bought several yards of cotton twill “to make me some frocks palaka” this is the first known use of the word palaka to describe the style of clothing: short cuts with no tail and meant to be worn outside of the pants. (Korn)
Scholars state that ‘palaka’ is a transliteration into Hawaiian of the English word ‘frock,’ the term used for the loose-fitting, long-sleeved work shirts worn by the sailors that came to Hawaiʻi. Gradually, the word came to describe a type and pattern of cloth; typically made into shirts (into plaid-like woven, not printed pattern.)
Pukui notes it is a checkered shirt; in the 19th century, a coarse work shirt worn by males, mentioned frequently in the literature and especially in Peter Kaʻeo’s letters in 1873–74 to his cousin, Queen Emma, and hence probably from English “frock” rather than from “block”. (Pukui)
Back to food; the notable reference was in a short note from Princess Kaʻiulani to Robert Louis Stevenson. In part she wrote, “Papa and I would like to have you come to our house on Tuesday next for dinner and Papa promises good Scotch “kaukau” for all you folks.” (She was referencing ‘food’ or ‘eats.’)
The Hawaiian term for food is ʻai. Kaukau in this context is not an Hawaiian word. Hawaiian dictionaries note ‘kaukau’ meant a heap of stones in a field used as a temporary altar on which the fruit of the field is laid as an act of worship or a snare to catch birds.
Pukui suggests that this term meaning to eat or drink, is probably local pidgin English derived from “chow chow,” Chinese for food. It is used by foreigners in conversation with natives, and vice versa. On the plantations, lunch break was “kaukau time.”
OK, this one is not as clear; the word is used in the Hawaiian language as “A coming together of two or more things; a uniting; an assembly. (In the Maori language, hui, means, come together.)” Today, in Hawaiʻi, a ‘hui’ is a partnership or association of folks cooperating in a common cause.
Hui is also a Chinese word, generally meaning ‘conference’, but which is sometimes used to refer to a secret society. The ‘Hui’ had special meaning in November 1894 when Sun Yat-sen, on his third trip in Hawaiʻi, established the Hsing Chung Hui (Revive China Society,) his first revolutionary society.
On another visit to Hawaiʻi (in 1903,) Sun reorganized the Hsing Chung Hui into Chung Hua Ke Min Jun (The Chinese Revolutionary Army) in Hilo. In 1905, in Tokyo, Sun reorganized the Hsing Chung Hui and other organizations into a political party called the Tung Meng Hui. Likewise, the Chinese Revolutionary Army was reorganized and all of its members Tung Meng Hui members.
This party spread all over China and rallied all the revolutionists under its wings. He then made his last visit to Hawaiʻi to form the Hawaiʻi Chapter of Tung Meng Hui. The revolutionary movement in China grew stronger and stronger. Tung Meng Hui members staged many armed uprisings, culminating in the October 10, 1911 Wuhan (Wuchang) Uprising which succeeded in overthrowing the Manchu dynasty and established the Republic of China. (Hmmm, was he using Hawaiian of Chinese in his organizational formation?)
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Back to food; lomi lomi salmon … but Hawaiʻi’s waters don’t teem with salmon; so, how did this become a lūʻau staple and into a compartment of our lūʻau plates?
Near the turn of the last century, the most valuable commercial fisheries in the world, excepting only the oyster and herring fisheries, were those supported by salmon. Of these the most important, by far, were the salmon fisheries of the Pacific coast of North America (California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, including also British Columbia.)
Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had its regional headquarters was in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1800s. Salmon was a mainstay of life of the Northwest Coast Indians. Fresh or preserved salmon, in turn, became a staple food for HBC posts west of the Rocky Mountains.
By 1830, the HBC was preserving salmon on the Columbia River and at Fort Langley on the Fraser River as well, mainly to feed Company personnel, but with some 200 to 300 barrels of Columbia River salmon exported that year, presumably all to Hawai’i. Preserved salmon found a ready market on O’ahu, particularly among native Hawaiians.
Just when that notable dish, lomi lomi salmon, first made its appearance is unknown, but if it was in fashion by the 1830s, the HBC can take credit for being the main provider of its principal ingredient. During the 1830s, HBC sold several hundred barrels of salmon a year in Honolulu. The 1840s saw a major increase in sales; the peak year was in 1849, with 2,610 barrels exported to Honolulu.
Lomi Lomi salmon, not a traditional Hawaiian dish (however, Hawaiian salt was used in preserving the salmon destined for Hawaiian consumption.) The source of the salt shipped by HBC to the Northwest Coast could have come from the Moanalua salt lake on Oʻahu, whose salt was considered the best for salting provisions and as a table salt in Honolulu.
The image shows a lūʻau (I wonder if this was a hui, dining after its recent formation; they are a bit overly dressed, no palaka in sight. However, there’s plenty of kaukau; you can bet the lomi lomi salmon is in there somewhere.)