People often associate hula with men and women in short grass skirts, rapidly gyrating their hips and twirling fire. Unfortunately, that’s not hula dancing. That’s a Polynesian form of dance, popular at luaus. No, hula, authentic hula, is a slower, soulful dance, primarily performed by women in full, formal dress. It is common to see men dancing the hula, as well, but generally it is a dance dominated by women.

The origins of the hula are murky, at best. The first point of question is where the first hula was performed. The Big Island, Oahu, Kauai and Molokai all claim to be the birthplace of hula. The next issue is who first performed it. Some say Hopoe, a companion of the goddess Hi’iaka, was the first dancer. Others believe it was Kapo’ulakina’u (Kapo), the goddess of fertility who first danced the hula. Finally, a third myth says the first hula dancer was the navigator goddess Laka.

Even though the first hula dancer or even where the first hula took place can’t be verified, what’s interesting to historians is that these three myths revolve around goddesses. This directly refutes claims that in ancient times, hulas were only performed by men. This claim is further refuted when in 1778, Captain Cook landed on the island now known as Kauai and his crew members wrote about hula dances being performed by both men and women.

Between 1819 (marked by the death of Kamehameha I) and 1874, many Christian Hawaiians considered the hula immoral. So much so that in 1830, Queen Ka’ahumanu, a Christian convert, made it illegal to perform the hula in public places. Upon her death in 1832, many began ignoring the law and again performed in public. In 1874, Kalakaua became king, and during his reign the hula again became officially public. It was performed at both his 1883 coronation and an 1886 jubilee celebration.

In 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy fell. It would be nearly 100 years before the hula again became a part of the government celebrations.

Today, there are two primary forms of Hula. The first, hula kahiko, often referred to as traditional hula, is generally performed in the style used prior to 1894. Much of this form of hula was created in the praise of chiefs and honoring Hawaiian goddesses and/or gods. Hula kahiko does not use modern instruments like the ukulele or guitar. Instead, it uses things like rhythm sticks, gourds carved into drums and rattles, or bamboo sticks cut so they slap together.

The second form of hula performed today is called hula’auana, which combines the traditional form of hula with western influences like melodic harmonies and Christian morality tales. String instruments like the ukulele, steel guitars and bass guitars are often used to accompany the performers.

You can see hulas performed all over the state, from resorts and shopping malls to luaus and public gatherings. See if you can spot the difference between traditional hulas and the modern form.

T. Komoda Store and Bakery, or Komoda’s as it’s more commonly known, has been a Maui institution for over 100 years. Its cream puffs and stick donuts are famous throughout the state. In telling the story of Komoda’s, let’s start at the beginning.

In 1916, Takezo Komoda opened his restaurant in a spot kitty corner from the current location, where Polli’s Mexican Restaurant currently stands. They mostly served sandwiches on their homemade bread, saimin and donuts to local cowboys and plantation workers. It wasn’t long until Komoda’s moved into its current location. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takezo handed his oldest son Takeo the keys to the restaurant for fear that his Japanese citizenship could force him to turn his restaurant over to the government.

When Takezo’s brother, Ikuo, returned to Maui from baking school with a folder full of new recipes in 1947, Komoda’s started its evolution from restaurant to bakery and general store. While the now famous stick donuts and malasadas had their roots in the original bread recipe used back in 1916, it wasn’t until early in the 1960s that Ikuo introduced his famous cream puffs.

While local residents made up a lion’s share of its customers, in 2008 when the recession hit, Komoda’s came perilously close to shutting down. Since then, though many locals have returned, Komoda’s now counts on island visitors to fill the gap lost by non-returning locals.

Today, still using the same exact cream puff recipe Ikuo developed in the ’60s, Komoda Store and Bakery is run by Takezo’s granddaughter Betty Shibuya and her husband/chief baker Calvin Shibuya. Lest you think Calvin lucked out in marrying into the family, know that at 74 years old his regular work hours are 11:30 PM until the shop closes at 4:00 PM!

If you’re on Maui and headed upcountry, a trip to Komoda’s is must-visit. It’s also a nice place to stop on the way to/from Haleakala. Just make sure you’re there by 10:00 AM, or you’ll probably find most of the bakery’s favorites sold out.

Do you have a story about Komoda’s? Please share it in the comments below. Mahalo!

In its broadest sense, a luau is a traditional Hawaiian party mixing local food and lots of entertainment. Luaus are used to celebrate the many of stages of life. People often don’t remember their first luau. No, it’s not because they drank too many mai tais. People don’t remember because their first luau is often a celebration of their own first birthday! Traditional luaus are often common for Sweet 16 birthdays, graduations and weddings.

For visitors, a luau is often less personal, but maybe even more culturally important. Often, a visitor’s first luau is their introduction to native food and dance. Attendees are able to sample local foods like kalua pig buried and roasted overnight in the beach, freshly pounded poi (taro root), purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, poke and haupia (a coconut-based dessert). Most modern luaus combine Polynesian dances and traditions into their shows. The traditional Hawaiian hula is a beautiful, slow dance. But for the modern luaus catering to visitors and locals looking for a lively celebration, we’ve come to expect dancing with quick hip undulations and fire. These forms of dance come from outside of Hawaii, but are still relevant to the Polynesian culture.

To learn about the history of the modern luau, we need to go back nearly 200 years. Prior to 1819, for large feasts (not yet called a luau), men sat separately from the women and children, and some celebratory dishes, like pork, moi (a reef fish) and bananas were only eaten by the chiefs. The common dishes for all to enjoy included other types of fish, sweet potatoes and poi. However, in 1819 King Kamehameha II started openly eating with women, thus breaking century’s old taboo of separate meal celebrations. It was during the king’s large gatherings with men, women and children that the term “luau” was first used for special meal events.

King Kamehameha’s luaus soon became legendary. The saying “enough to feed a king” is definitely apropos to his 1847 luau that featured 271 hogs, 1,820 fish and 2,245 coconuts! Years later, another king, King Kalakaua, for his 50th birthday, invited more that 1,500 people for a luau so large, the attendees were fed in three shifts.

Today, modern luaus are still about the food, dance and celebration. One can find public luaus all over the state of Hawaii. We’ve put together a list of our five favorite luaus on Mauiif you need help deciding on which one attend. Luaus are still a great way to celebrate and learn about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.

Happy Thanksgiving! This list could’ve run on for pages and pages. But on this long weekend, we’ll settle for our top 10 reasons to be thankful for living on Maui.

  1. The people— People come from all over the world to live on and visit Maui. Most of the people here are chill, friendly and happy. Quick with help and joyous smiles, we’ve never a been around a happier lot of people anywhere in the world.
  2. The weather— It never really gets too hot or too cold. When it does get too hot, the trade winds come in to save the day. Even the rain here is pretty when it forms delightful rainbows.
  3. The ocean— No matter where you are, you’re just a short car ride away from the majestic Pacific Ocean. Our oceans are filled with beautiful fish and sealife. From bright yellow tangs to green sea turtles to large rays, snorkeling in our oceans, no matter how often you go, promises something new to see and experience. Of course, Maui’s ocean provides a wonderful playground for those who like to spend their time above the water, as well. With world-class surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing and stand-up paddle boarding, whatever object you ride in our oceans, you’re guaranteed to be satisfied.
  4. The beaches— This goes hand-in-hand with the ocean. Our beaches are clean, pristine and offer various types of terrain, from white sandy beaches to black lava beaches to red sand beaches, we have it all. Tidepools formed on beaches are excellent places to teach children about ocean ecosystems. And of course, there are few things more relaxing than reading the book under an umbrella at the beach.
  5. The food— Whether you prefer a cheap, plate lunch or a 5-star meal prepared by the finest chefs in the country, Maui has food for everyone. Hawaii’s favorite dish, poke, may have gone national, but the best poke on the planet can still be found here on Maui. Other regional specialties, like malasadas, loco moco, chow fun and shave ice are always available and always delicious.
  6. The sunsets— Every night nature puts on a show that produces some of the most breathtaking images you’ll ever see. Even locals who have spent their entire lives here gaze in awe at the beauty of our sunsets. Whether they’re golden, pink or fiery red, the sunsets never disappoint on Maui.
  7. The hiking— Whether you’re on a half-mile trail connecting two beaches along the coast or 10,000 feet up above the clouds surrounding Haleakala, the hiking on Maui is extraordinary. Rainforest hikes take you through wet terrains to waterfalls and rivers, while ridge hikes take you to points with amazing views of the ocean, valleys and everything in between.
  8. The waterfalls— From the 400 foot Waimuku Falls to smaller waterfalls hidden throughout the island, Maui is an Instagrammers dream. The Road to Hana itself has at least 12 waterfalls either located right off the road or a short hike away. Twin Falls and the Waihee Ridge Trail hike offer excellent waterfall views, as well.
  9. The artisan spirit— Living on an island, we often have to make do with what’s on hand. Sure farm-to-table is a burgeoning movement on the mainland, but here on Maui, it’s a way of life. The upcountry farms produce some of the finest livestock, fruits and vegetables you’ll find anywhere in the world. Beyond food, the artisan culture of Maui creates everything from sunblock to pickles to handcrafted chocolate with cacao grown right here on Maui.
  10. The history— The Hawaiian Islands have a unique history, language and culture. It’s a history to be proud of and embraced.

We love living on Maui. No, it’s not always the paradise portrayed on postcards, but it’s home. We’re proud to live here, and we’re proud and thankful we get to share our island with visitors from around the world. Mahalo!

The shaka sign, made with the thumb and pinkie up, and the three middle fingers curled into a fist, then lightly shaken, is ubiquitous in Hawaii. Locals use it as a sign of solidarity and friendship. It can be used to say “howzit? (how’s it going?)” or “thanks” or “hello” or “hang loose.” Most associate it with Hawai’i but some believe it’s roots began in California.

Here in Hawai’i, when attempting to seek the origins of the shaka, no one can definitively say where it came from. There are a few different origin stories that revolve around a “man” missing his three middle fingers. Some believe it began with a surfer who lost his three middle fingers to a shark. Another story is that a young man lost his fingers while throwing dynamite into the ocean. Still another variation is that a man in the 1960’s lost his fingers in an industrial accident and was known by all his neighbors, including the mayor. When the mayor was running for re-election, he adopted the man’s missing-digit wave while he campaigned.

Finally, one story that seems to be catching steam as the definitive truth involves a man named Hamana Kalili. Kalili lost three fingers to a sugar cane feeder. Once he lost his fingers, he could no longer work in the mill so he became a security guard. Part of his duties included overseeing the train that carried away the sugar cane. When kids would try to sneak onto the train, they would give the “all clear” sign to their friends by mocking Kalili’s fingerless wave. Charming!

So, if that solves the mystery of how the shaka came into existence, the next question is, where does the name “shaka” come from? In the 1960’s, local TV personality David “Lippy” Espinda ended his TV car commercials with “shaka, brah!” Most believe this is the origin of the name. But, even this is in dispute.

Remember that mayor that purportedly co-opted the sign from this fingerless neighbor? Well his name was Frank Fasi (1920-2010) and he credited the late boxing promoter Bill Pacheco for flashing the sign and saying “shaka brother.” Others believe the word “shaka” is derived from the name of a Buddha, Shakyamuni, who pressed his hands together in the shapes of the shaka. Another belief is that shaka is an amalgamation of “shark eye,” a compliment given to friends and relatives. The true origin of the name “shaka” may never be known.

No matter where the shaka sign came from and how it was named, shakas are a part of every day life here in Hawai’i. If someone flashes you a shaka, don’t hesitate to send one right back!

Among a large number of marine life, some of the oldest (over 300-years-old) coral in the state of Hawaii finds its home right here in Maui. Olowalu reef, spanning over 1,000 acres, is reportedly the largest and most developed of the Valley Isle. At the heart of the island, the reef’s location has made it a popular spawning ground and has become a crucial part of populating reefs around not only Maui but islands Molokai and Lanai as well. Due to the current condition of this marine hub, Oluwalu has been recently designated as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, earmarking it for enhanced protection.

At Hawaii Ocean Project, we could not be more excited about this news; but what contributed to this new classification and conservation effort? Recent coral bleaching events and decades of plantation run off have become the most evident culprits and have drastically taken their toll on the area. Tropical rains that run down the mountains bring soil of the once sugar cane-covered slopes into the ocean, turning the Olowalu waters to a “chocolate brown”. Along with smothering the coral, the sediment also reduces the amount of required sunlight that the coral needs to grow.

Even with the environmental impacts that are currently affecting the area, life still stirs in the sparkling blue waters just off Olowalu. Even though half of the reef has been lost, there is still a significant amount remaining. This has the conservation community along with residents hopeful that this new designation will bring not only awareness but also support to get our oceans healthy!

Malama Ka Aina (respect the land) is a core value here in Hawaii and extends to the deep blue that surrounds the island chain. So if you happen to find yourself on our Molokini snorkel trip or Lanai snorkel tour, we hope that the overwhelming beauty of the underwater world, as well as the island itself, will inspire you to join the conservation efforts and take steps towards maintaining as well as helping the planet heal.

The annual Halloween celebration in Lahaina has been called the “Mardi Gras of the Pacific.” When day turns to night, with traffic blocked off, Front Street is transformed into Maui’s biggest adult party of they year. But, lets go back to the beginning.

The first “official” celebration of Halloween on Front Street took place in 1989. By 2007, Halloween easily became the biggest day of the year in Lahaina. Crowds were estimated to be between 20,000 – 30,000 people. Though never verified, it was thought that Halloween alone pumped $3 million into the local economy.

Back then, the evening started with a keiki (children’s) parade. Seeing the kids in their costumes was the big highlight for a lot people. As darkness set in, the crowd and the vibe of the event went from family fun to an alcohol-fueled mega-party. Unlike New Orleans, you weren’t allowed to drink alcohol on the streets. Still, blocking the streets from cars, led to a constant parade of barely clad men and women roaming Front Street.

Considering it an affront to Hawaiian culture, a group of cultural advisors asked local authorities to shut the party down. And in 2008, it did. The county no longer sanctioned the keiki parade, the costume contests, and most importantly, it left Front Street open to automobile traffic. In doing so, the county hoped to curtail the rowdiness. It was effective. Maybe too effective, as local business suffered a sharp downturn in revenue.

By 2011, Maui County was still feeling the effects of the downturn in tourism due to the ongoing recession. So the LahainaTown Action Committee and the Office of Economic Development relit the fuse on the Halloween party. Once again, the keiki parade led off the event, and as dusk settled the adults came out to play.

Today, the Keiki Costume Parade kicks off the annual Halloween celebration at 4:30 PM. The parade ends on the stage at Banyan Tree Park, where the children receive a ribbon and goodie bag. From there, the party rolls down the street to Campbell Park for live music. Once the sun goes down, it’s back to Banyan Tree Park, for more live entertainment and a costume contest for adults. Many of the bars and restaurants along Front Street host their own Halloween parties and costume and contests.

Though it hasn’t reached those peak, early-2000’s attendance numbers, the party is still the biggest of the year in Lahaina. If you’re attending this year, have fun and be safe!

Sam Choy, Beverly Gannon, Peter Merriman, Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, five of the original 12 members of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, all have signature cookbooks. Like their restaurants, the books still hold up today. For many people, it isn’t a trip to Hawai’i without visiting one of their dining locations. What follows is a quick synopsis of their most popular cookbooks. If you want to take a piece of Hawaii home with you, you might as well take the piece that lives inside your belly! All of these books are available from Amazon, with the exception of the Merriman book, for which you’ll need to swing by one of his restaurants or order directly from his website. The cookbooks below are listed chronologically. Bon appetit!

“With Sam Choy: Cooking from the Heart” – Sam Choy, Evelyn Cook (1995)
“With Sam Choy: Cooking from the Heart” tells the story of Sam Choy, one of the main faces and personalities behind the Hawaiian food revolution of the early ’90s, through his recipes and words. Often called the “Godfather of Poke,” his engaging, out-sized personality shows through in the food descriptions and when he’s “talking story” throughout the book. In fact, there are personal stories for nearly every one of the 130 recipes. Whether the story is about the inspiration behind the recipe or why he would present the dish in a certain fashion, it’s these little anecdotes that make reading the book a real pleasure.

Chef Choy has one Big Island restaurant: Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai

“Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii” – Roy Yamaguchi and John Harrison (1995)
With over 150 recipes, Roy Yamaguchi steps out from the kitchen and shares the secrets behind his award-winning dishes. It’s a beautiful book containing lots of pictures and wonderful recipes. Along the way, he slowly tells the story of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine through each recipe. At first glance, the recipes can seem overwhelming due to the sheer number ingredients, but a deeper read shows that most home cooks, regardless of their skill level in the kitchen, can follow along with a majority of the recipes.

Chef Yamaguchi’s restaurants in Hawai’i:
Maui: Roy’s Ka’anapali
Big Island: Roy’s Waikola
Oahu: Roy’s Hawaii Kai, Roy’s Ko Olina, Roy’s Turtle Bay, Roy’s Waikiki

“New Wave Luau” – Alan Wong and John Harrison (1999)
Probably the most adventurous of the five chefs whose books we’re looking at for this article, Wong masterfully blends classic recipes with a playful whimsy to create foods that will bring smiles and winks from your dinner guests. The kalbi short rib tacos with papaya-red onion salsa is nothing short of breathtaking and quite easy to make. The book is filled with wonderful recipe intros and lots of pictures. The recipes themselves are well-written and easy to follow.

Chef Wong’s restaurants: Alan Wong’s Honolulu; Alan Wong’s Shanghai

Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook” – Beverly Gannon and Bonnie Friedman (2000)
After a nice intro about her family, the restaurant’s neighborhood and the restaurant itself, chef/restauranteur Beverly Gannon breaks the cookbook into seasons, starting with spring and ending, naturally, in winter. Along the way, the recipes are well laid out, easy to follow and there are plenty of photos. Hali’imaile General Store is one of the most popular and well-reviewed restaurants on Maui. If you loved eating here, you’ll be thrilled to recreate the signature dishes (minus, sadly, the crab dip) at home.

Chef Gannon’s Maui restaurants: Gannon’s (Wailea); Hali’imaile General Store (Makawao)

“Merriman’s Hawai’i” – Peter Merriman and Melanie P. Merriman (2015)
Starting with an intro by renowned chef Peter Bayless, “Merriman’s Hawai’i” covers 75 recipes over 262 pages. There are gorgeous pictures for every recipe. Even better, reading this book is like taking a culinary tour of the Big Island. As you’re reading, you’ll meet local artisans who supply the “farm” portion of his farm-to-table culinary ethic. Maybe because it’s the most recently published, this book is the sharpest looking and most interesting read of the five cookbooks in this article.

Chef Merriman’s restaurants:
Maui: Merrimans (Kapalua), Hula Grill (Ka’anapali), Monkeypod (Wailea), Monkeypod (Ka’anapali opening Fall, 2017)
Big Island: Merriman’s (Waimea)
Kauai: Merriman’s (Poipu), Gourmet Pizza and Burgers by Merriman (Poipu)
Oahu: Moku Kitchen (Honolulu), Monkeypod (Ko Olina)

Do you have a favorite Hawai’ian food-based cookbook? Tell us on Twitter @HIOceanProject and Instagram @hawaiioceanproject

Poke (pronounced poh-kay, rhymes with okay) literally means “to cut crosswise into pieces.” It’s a simple dish made of chopped seafood, generally tuna, marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil, and mixed with onion. But, you’ll find many variations of this when you visit poke shops and grocery stores around Hawai’i. Octopus (tako) and mussels are two common options, and spicing it up with wasabi and/or kimchee are also popular variations.

It’s believed that poke was first prepared by native Polynesians centuries before Western travelers arrived on the islands. Initially, it was made with raw reef fish, seasoned with sea salt and seaweed, and combined with crushed candlenut. Salting of the fish was for both flavor and more importantly, preserving the fish.

Most historians agree that it wasn’t until the 1960’s and ’70s, that the name “poke” was given to the dish we currently recognize as poke. The naming of poke coincided with ahi tuna becoming more readily available. Ahi’s bright pink hue was far more aesthetically pleasing than dull, grey reef fish and it tasted better. Chef Sam Choy, one of the early purveyors of the Hawai’i Regional Cuisine movement of the early ’90s, was instrumental in bringing poke to the masses. In 1991, he launched his first poke contest, featuring poke recipes from across the state. The contest showed chefs and home cooks just how inventive they could be with poke. The contest is still an annual event held in March.

Today, Hawai’i’s beloved poke can be found across the country and around the world. While it a may be a food “trend” to some, it’s a part of the lifestyle here in Hawai’i, and is served everywhere from football tailgates to high-end weddings. If you want to try poke on Maui, check out our Best Poke in Grocery Stores and Shops guide.

According to legend, Maui (for whom our beautiful island is named) set out to capture the sun and slow it down for his mother, Hina. She was a talented woman, who created cloth out of pounded bark (Kapa), but lamented that the sun moved across the sky too quickly for her cloth to dry. So, Maui headed to the peak of Mt. Haleakala, AKA “house of the sun.” Once at the top, Maui lassoed the sun in an effort to slow it down and lengthen the day.

Emerging from two large shield volcanoes, the West Maui Mountains first appeared approximately 1.3-2 million years ago with Haleakala following approximately 750, 000-1 million years ago. As lava flowed from the volcano, Haleakala continued growing over time. Today it stands 10,023 feet above ocean level. The crater is roughly seven miles across, two miles wide, and 3,000 ft. deep.
Recent dating tests reveal that Haleakala most likely last erupted sometime in the 17th century. Once thought to be extinct, scientists now believe the volcano is actually just dormant and may erupt again in the next 500 years. Sensors have been installed on the mountain to monitor seismic activity.

Haleakala is at the heart of the Haleakala National Park, but there’s more to the park than just the volcano. Established in 1916, the national park covers more than 30,000 acres. It runs from the volcano’s rim all the way down to the Pacific Ocean shoreline.

The Haleakala National Park is home to more endangered species than any other U.S. National Park. The Hawaiian silversword is an endangered plant that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The nene, a once nearly extinct Hawaiian goose, can also be spotted (and heard) in the park.

It has been argued how many climate zones there are in the world, some say 14, others say 20. What we do know, is that Haleakala National Park has a majority of them; descending from desert to forest to coastal. When visiting Maui, most people don’t think to pack a heavy jacket, but a warm jacket is important if you are planning a trip up to the summit to watch the sunrise, because there are often freezing temperatures.

Over the years, crowds wanting to watch the sunrise at the summit have grown. Consequently, the National Parks Service have implemented a way to manage the crowds. In February, 2017, a reservation system was put into place. Reservations are now required to enter the Summit District between 3:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M. For more information or to book your reservation, visit the National Parks Service website.

A majority of people, who enter the national park, are there for the sunrise. But, if you want to skip the heavy crowds (or forget to make reservations), we recommend visiting at sunset. Nearly as beautiful, it’s a far more relaxed atmosphere for viewing, and you don’t have to rush to be at the summit in wee hours of the morning. Additionally, if you stay up there until it’s dark, you may be able to see the Milky Way. At the least, you’ll see planets, moons (Jupiter’s moons!) and millions of stars. It’s one of the best stargazing locations in the world. The visitor center has star maps, and you can rent binoculars from various dive shops or hotels.

Haleakala is one of Maui’s natural treasures. If you visit, take your time to enjoy it. There are things, at Haleakala National Park, you won’t see anywhere else in the world.