One of my fondest school memories as a kid was when we would have “culture fairs” or “culture days” at school. I know I must have been in at least three different classes in elementary school where we had planned out these events. Sometimes I was asked to present a culture from my personal heritage. Other times I was assigned a culture by the teacher or could choose from a list.
The games and food were always the favorite things we enjoyed during these fairs. Honestly, I’m not sure how much of the food prepared was truly authentic and what had been Americanized versions of the foods. As long as it tasted good, I don’t think I gave it much thought as a kid.
Today, I think it’s great when families try to do something similar. I like to think of it as a destination staycation – visiting and learning about a destination while at home.
1. Cook (and Eat) Some Hawaiian Food
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think this could be said for women and kids and grandparents and pets and…well, you get the picture. Who doesn’t love some good food?
If you’re wondering how SPAM got its name, it comes from a shortened version of “spiced ham.” It is said the military tries to take credit and gave it the name as a shortened version “special Army meat”…but that could really be true of a lot of different meats served in the military. When there turned out to be a large surplus of SPAM during World War II, the meat made it’s way throughout the islands in the Pacific where it was embraced by the locals.
SPAM is a popular food in Hawaii. You can find it on the menus even in places like McDonald’s and Burger King. It has been lovingly named “Hawaii’s steak.” At the end of April each year, a special festival named “SPAM Jam” is held in Waikiki.
If you’re looking for some great recipes to try out, SPAM.com has a whole section of “Hawaiian” recipes on their website. Go ahead and give one a try. Let me know in the comments below what you tried and whether or not you liked it.
Poke bowls have actually become quite popular over the last decade or so outside of Hawaii. So what exactly is a poke bowl? In the Hawaiian language, poke means “to slice or cut” and refers to raw meats that have been sliced up and marinated…most often tuna. The poke is then placed on top of a bowl of rice along with vegetables and sauces.
The Daily Burn offers 7 Quick and Delicious Poke Bowl Recipes. You can try some of their recipes. If your family members aren’t very adventurous eaters, you can always modify a recipe a little to make a bowl your family might be a more willing to try. You can use these recipes for inspiration or do a quick internet search to try to find something a little more child friendly.
Traditional Luau Foods
When visiting Hawaii, many people like to try a Hawaiian luau. The food is often served buffet style or family style with plenty of different Hawaiian foods to try. Some of the more popular buffet items are Kalua Pua’a (roast pork), Teriyaki beef, baked mahi-mahi, and chicken long rice.
I remember as a kid at my first luau being asked to try poi. I found poi to be an acquired taste. Poi is considered a staple at many Hawaiian meals and luaus. It is made by boiling the taro root, pounding it, and then adding water until it comes to a smooth consistency. I have been told that if you haven’t had it before, you might find it more palatable if you add some Kalua Pua’a to it first.
For those families with a sweet tooth (and we have lots of sweet teeth in my family), some of the more popular desserts are: pineapple upside-down cake, coconut cake, macadamia nut pie, and chocolate mochi.
A lot of these traditional luau foods along with their recipes can be found through a simple search online. You can pick a few to make a meal…or if you’re holding a bigger family gathering make it a potluck and let people sign up for some of these Hawaiian favorites.
2. Play Some Hawaiian Games
Every year the Makahiki Games are held in Hawaii. These games are often thought of as the Hawaiian Olympics. Traditionally, the games were open to warriors, alii (Polynesian kings or chiefs), as well as commoners. The games were meant to help warriors stay active and prepare for times of war. They also helped the commoners learn some skills should they be needed during war times.
Today, Makahiki games are held on every island. The competition is often accompanied by a celebration that also includes local arts & crafts, food, hula dancing, and music.
Here are a few traditional (and a few not so traditional) Hawaiian games.
Konane is very similar to checkers and if you are lacking a Konane board, a checkerboard can easily be substituted. The game traditionally uses white coral and black lava rock (although you can substitute as needed).
The game starts by filling in the game board with an alternating color of black lava rock and white coral. The players then take turns hopping over the opposing player’s game pieces and capturing them. Every move made must capture an opponent’s piece. You can hop left, right, up, or down. You lose the game if you are unable to capture one of your opponent’s pieces.
Kukini means “runner, swift messenger, as employed by old chiefs, with a premium on their speed.” (Hawaiian Dictionary) Today, kukini is simply a foot race to determine the fastest runner.
Pass the Coconut
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a “traditional” Hawaiian game, but it is a little easier for younger kids to understand. Think of it as playing a game of “hot potato” but using a coconut instead. You sit in a circle while someone plays Hawaiian music. Everyone keeps passing the coconut along while the music plays. Whenever the music stops, the person holding the coconut is “out.” You keep playing this until there is one person left who is deemed the winner. If you have a larger group, you can make the game more fun by adding a second coconut.
Kumu Hula Says…
This is another game your kids may be familiar with but with a Hawaiian twist. Kumu Hula means hula teacher. Similar to the “Simon Says” game, someone is picked to be the Kumu Hula. They must say “Kumu Hulu says…” and then mention a hula move and/or direction. If they tell the group to do something without saying “Kumu Hula says,” anyone in the group who accidentally acts out the move is taken out of the game. You keep on playing until one person is left.
Below are some traditional hula moves you can include if you choose (or for younger kids you may allow them just to show a hula move):
- Ami – You rotate your hips counterclockwise while holding your shoulders still.
- Ha’a: Stand with your knees bent.
- Hela: Point your right foot forward while swaying to the left, and then you point your left foot forward and sway to the right.
- Huli: Rotate and sway your hips.
- Ihope: Move slightly backwards.
- Ilalo: The body goes down a little (by bending the knees)
- Iluna: The body goes up a little (by unbending the knees)
- Imua: Move slightly forward
- Kaholo: Move two steps to the right, then two steps to the left.
- Lava: Everyone stops…it is lava after all.
Hula Skirt Relay
This is another game that is a take on a traditional relay game. In this game you split your group into two teams. Each team gets a full hula outfit. It can include such items as:
- A flower to tuck behind your ear
- A flower lei
- A top made of coconuts
- One band of flowers to go around each wrist
- A grass skirt
- Flip flops or sandals for the feet
Each member of the team, one by one, has to put on the complete outfit, run down to a designated spot and touch it, then run back to their group and take the outfit off. Once the outfit is completely off, the next person in line begins the whole process over again. This continues until everyone has had a chance to put the outfit on.
3. Learn a Little Hula
I have really grown to love the hula. I have taken the time to learn just a little bit and have come to appreciate that the hula is beautiful language of storytelling.
My favorite online resource to learn hula is iHula Hawaii. The owner also has a fantastic YouTube channel where she visually teaches some of the basic as well as more advanced moves and hula dances. Although I have not watched all the videos, it does appear to be a family friendly channel.
Go ahead and give it a try. The video above is simple and easy for kids to follow. If you enjoy it, try some more of her dances.
4. Learn to Speak Some Hawaiian
I am certainly no master of any language. But I do try to learn a little of the local language when I am traveling.
Below are a few Hawaiian words and phrases that are easy to pronounce and understand. They might be fun to add to your home.
This is one that is familiar to a lot of people which makes it easy to remember. It is a greeting that means more than “hello.” Its literal meaning is “love,” and implies a wish for a good day.
It simply means “thank you.” It is an expression of gratitude.
A Hui Hou
It’s meaning is very similar to “see you soon.” It is also sometimes used at a luau concert instead of chanting ‘encore!’
This phrase used in Hawaii means “what’s up” or “how’s it going”.
Pronounced: oh-no grinds
It means “delicious food” and is a way to show appreciation for a delicious Hawaiian meal. Grinds can also be used by itself to describe tasty food.
A ‘O Ia!
It means “there you have it!” It can be used to cheer on performers — especially anyone willing to give a hula performance a try.
Honu is basically a green sea turtle which can be find all over the Hawaiian islands…especially while snorkeling or scuba diving. They are officially listed as endangered species.
Want to Learn More Hawaiian?
If you want to learn a little more of the Hawaiian language, there are lots of great resources out there if you do a little digging. One of my favorites is Duolingo. It gives you lessons in a bite-sized 5 minutes each. You can move along as quickly or slowly as you like earning rewards along the way.
Duolingo’s lessons can be adapted for family members of different ages. Duolingo offered a fantastic resource for families when the COVID-19 crisis hit and parents found themselves scrambling to help keep their children busy and learning as schools shut down.
Have Yourself a Hawaiian Destination Staycation
Sometimes circumstances like a financial loss or a health crisis like COVID-19 make traveling a little more difficult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a destination staycation to Hawaii.
Pick and choose some of these activities, then plan and have an evening, a weekend, or maybe even a whole week dedicated to your Hawaiian staycation. When you do finally get to go on that trip to Hawaii, your family will be more prepared on what to expect and have a better appreciation of the Hawaiian culture…even if some of it isn’t exactly traditional. Have at it and have fun!
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Remember: Families that play together, stay together.