If you are dreaming of some of your favorite Hawaiian things, you might be surprised to learn they aren’t exactly Hawaiian in origin.
This isn’t a scam brought to you by the tourist industry, well, in most cases. Hawaii has a rich history of blending cultures together, starting with the sugar plantation villages where Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Japanese and Germans shared traditions, recipes and music with each other.
You ever hear of “machete?” No, not that tattooed dude from the movies. I’m talking about the most beloved Hawaiian instrument ever known to non-Hawaiians – ever! The machete is better known these days as the ukulele, that miniature guitar everyone thinks they can play after one luau and 5 cocktails.
Machete is the original name of the Portuguese instrument introduced to the islands by the sailors and plantation immigrants.
If I’ve lost you, here’s the flowchart: sailors played music on the machete; Hawaiians watched the sailors fingers flying all over the instruments fret so fast that they called the instrument “jumping fleas,” because that is what it reminded them of.
While the ukulele was not native to the island, it has been embraced by the culture and is an integral part of its musical heritage since
. We are unsure about the flea’s native origins.
If you really think the ancient Hawaiians really ran around in 80-degree humid heat fully covered by flowery tablecloths, you’ve had one too many foo-foo cocktails.
For practical reasons, Hawaiians wore little and had no concept of body-shaming, either. But, when the respectable, God-fearing Christians “found them” in the 1800s, part of their missionary duties became to cover the nakedness all around.
This became the birth of the mu’u mu’u. Please, don’t say the word like you’re calling a cow; pronounce each “u”. Otherwise, you might offend that beautiful woman you’re trying to impress who happens to be wearing one.
At first, the mu’u mu’u was a simple garment that was designed as a one-size fits all to quickly cloth the natives. Over time, the mu’u mu’u became tailored and more fashionable. Early styles morphed into a Victorian-style with long sleeves and decorative collars.
Today’s mu’u mu’u’s are stylish and can be worn as alternative office attire. More elegant styles are used at special occasions, like weddings, baptisms or graduations.
If you really want to match your mu’u mu’u to your man’s aloha shirt for tonight’s luau, go for it. It’s your vacation. The locals will only laugh at you a little.
Pineapple has Hawaiian-ized many American food dishes from burgers to pizza. But while pineapple might make your favorites seem Hawaiian, it wasn’t until decades after the first plantations of sugar and macadamias were already establishing trade to California that pineapple was first planted in the islands.
The first plants were actually harvested near what is now the land surrounding Pearl Harbor, but an industry was born when those plants were sold to Baldwin on the island of Maui. The missionary family created the Haiku Fruit & Packing Company in 1903.
The industry became so large that Hawaii, at its height of canning, supplied more than 70% of the world’s canned pineapple and nearly 85% of its juice. Not bad for a tiny state in the middle of the ocean.
By the sound of the word, the hukilau should be a real Hawaiian thing, right? And yes, you are correct. However, this wouldn’t be a segment on things you thought were Hawaiian but aren’t if there wasn’t a twist.
The hukilau you grew up with is a fun party dance with rhyming words. You might even be asked to participate in a performance during a luau.
That being said, know that what you singing was written by a very Caucasian dude in 1948. Don Ho made the song, written by Jack Owens, popular as Ala Moana Beach made its mark as a top vacation destination.
The song embodies our love of being carefree, enjoying family, music and fun. The song was inspired by the ancient Hawaiian fishing practice of hukilau, where a net was hauled by the community of men in the shallows of the water, walking to shore to trap the fish that would be shared by all. At its essence, this type of fishing inspired a celebration of food and family.
Really, isn’t that we are all singing about in that silly song?
Hawaiian Sweet Bread
Hawaiian Sweet Bread has taken the world by storm, with executive chefs using the moist, sweet buns as bookends to some of the best gourmet burgers around. But Hawaiians didn’t have bread prior to the plantation workers introducing it into the culture.
In fact, Hawaiians favorite starch is taro, a root vegetable, similar to a potato, most widely known as the foundation of poi – a very Hawaiian dish that most would relate to the Elmer’s Glue we all ate as children.
Sweet bread was actually introduced by the Portuguese, who used potato yeast as the base of the bread. Traditionally, the loaves are baked in round pie tins, airy and moist.
People in Hawaii aren’t particular about the history of their food, as long as it is “ono” meaning good. And sweet bread is indeed good: good for a snack, dinner bread, a base for French toast, burger buns or anything else you can think of to use bread.
So, grab a handful from the round tin, slather it with some guava jam and chow down. It’s okay, like many things Hawaiian. It may not be originally from Hawaii, but its all Hawaiian now. Enjoy!
Know any other Hawaiian things that aren’t really Hawaiian? Let us know!