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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Home Away From Home: History of the Dartmouth Lūʻau

One writer follows the history of the annual Dartmouth Lūʻau, from its creation in 1996 to present day.

Luau.HEIC

Courtesy of Beam Lertbunnaphongs ’25

Friends, family and community members came together for the annual Dartmouth Lūʻau on May 12, a cultural event with a rich and extensive history. First held in 1996, the Dartmouth Lū‘au celebrates Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander identity on campus, unifying the community through food, music and hula dancing.

While the Lū‘au has evolved since its founding, the event has preserved its goal of providing a home away from home for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, according to Lū‘au founding member Ty Tengan ’97. The Dartmouth spoke to Tengan and other community members to explore the Lū‘au’s role, both past and present, on Dartmouth’s campus. 

Before the Lūʻau

In 1993, three years before the first Dartmouth Lū‘au, Tengan said he first performed hula — often featured at Lū‘aus — on Dartmouth’s campus. According to Tengan, Elizabeth Carey ’93 invited him to join her in a hula performance at the 1993 Powwow.

In a 1997 Dartmouth Alumni Magazine article, Carey wrote that her first time dancing hula on campus was “the first positive experience” she had at Dartmouth.

“I was dancing in my own world; everything was coming out from inside of me, and I felt a huge release,” Carey wrote. “A great outburst of applause jolted me back. Mentally and spiritually drained, all I could think was that I had completely opened myself up to all those people and how scary it had been.”

Carey added that she had been worried “about what people would think,” explaining that the community looked at her with “wonder and confusion” before she took the stage.

“Most people in the room had never really seen the hula, not the way I learned it, only the grass skirt thing always shown on television,” Carey wrote. “What were they all expecting?”

In 1994 — his sophomore year, and one year after performing hula with Carey at Powwow — Tengan said he and several other Hawaiian students on campus started to get together and play kanikapila, a style of Hawaiian music. The group formed a Hawaiian music band named Lokahi, or “unity” and “coming together” in Hawaiian, according to Tengan. That year, Tengan said he performed hula at Powwow for a second time. 

By Tengan’s junior year, the members of Lokahi — along with students who performed at Powwow and others with connections to Hawaii — “established Hōkūpa`a.” The organization provided “a way of establishing and reaffirming connections to Hawaii,” he explained. Hōkūpa`a ultimately evolved to include “students who are from or are connected to the Pacific Islands,” according to the group’s webpage.

The First Lū‘au

According to Tengan, Hōkūpa`a members were soon inspired to organize Dartmouth’s first Lūʻau. In 1996, the group held a Lū‘au in the Hyphen, the lounge area that connects Butterfield Hall to Russell Sage Hall.

“We were like, okay, now that we’ve established ourselves as a club we can do this for ourselves, but open it up for others who want to be a part of it,” he said. “Initially, it was to help us affirm who we were as students from Hawaii.”

Tengan said Hōkūpa`a was initially a “small group” of “maybe 50 people” but had “critical mass at the time.” He added that the group “adapted” various elements of the traditional Lū‘au to work on Dartmouth’s campus.

“My wife [Ku’ulei Tengan ’97] remembered getting teriyaki chicken that was basically prepared at the food court,” Tengan said. “We were making our Kalua pig in the oven and we put liquid smoke and Hawaii rock salt to [replicate] the oven style [as] Kalua pig is normally [roasted] in an underground oven.”

Hōkūpa`a held its second annual Lūʻau in Brace Commons in the East Wheelock cluster in 1997, according to Tengan. Tengan said the event had “gotten a little bigger, 75 or 100 [people].”

“There was an auntie [from Hawaii] who lived in Connecticut who helped bring up flowers and [helped] with the cooking,” Tengan said.

Combating Stereotypes

According to Hōkūpa`a co-president Li’ua Tengan ’25 — Ty Tengan’s daughter — Hōkūpa`a’s Lūʻau allows its audience to experience authentic hula dancing, as opposed to the stereotypes often perpetuated by film and media.

“The hula that [Hōkūpa`a] does is ‘Auana,’ so it’s more authentic than you would see on TV shows, and that’s what I love,” she said. “We get to show people what hula actually would look like if you went to Hawaii and break down those various stereotypes.”

Ty Tengan also said he believes that the annual Lūʻau is crucial for combating stereotypes about Hawaiian students. When he arrived at Dartmouth in 1993, Tengan said he recalls being asked if he “lived in a grass shack” by students.

“After we established Hōkūpa`a, we really tried to provide an important corrective to all of the stereotypes because, for us, as Native Hawaiians especially, it’s not just about the culture and the celebration — it’s about political struggle,” Tengan said.

Still, some students continued to perpetuate stereotypes surrounding the Lūʻau.

Three years after Hōkūpa`a’s first Lūʻau, Dartmouth Greek houses garnered controversy for their attempts to host a party themed after the traditional event. In 1999, Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority planned a Hawaiian Lūʻau party that was later canceled after a student sent an email to students and administrators condemning the event, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. Some students criticized the event in The Dartmouth, while others said they did not believe it was offensive.

“The fact that people feel a right to capitalize on some stereotype of where I am from and the people I feel a cultural responsibility to in the name of fun, angers and hurts me,” Aaron Akamu wrote in an opinion column.

Akamu also noted that, while some believed Hōkūpa`a should have planned the event with the houses, the Greek spaces “didn’t want to host a Lūʻau, they wanted to have a party.”

A Growing Tradition

Despite the Greek Life Lūʻau controversy, Hōkūpa`a’s Lūʻau continued to thrive in the following decades. According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, this year’s Lūʻau drew 750 attendees — up from “75 or 100” its second year, Ty Tengan said. 

Moreover, the Dartmouth Office of Student Life voted the Lūʻau the best student-organized campus event in both 2018 and 2019, according to the Native American Program website. According to Hōkūpa`a member Teani De Fries ’24, external support plays a crucial role in the event’s success. De Fries said she was grateful for the support from the Dartmouth community during the 2024 Lūʻau.

“When I talk about [the Lūʻau] with people from home, they can’t believe it,” De Fries said. “The two musicians who were singing are my high school classmates, and my family came up to [prepare] the food, so it was really cool to see all of that come together. Not many people can say that they have a Lūʻau and support from their school like this across the United States.”

Tengan also said outside support from families and alumni is “really critical” to the Lūʻau’s success each year, allowing for ample food and tasteful decorations.

“[Now] even if [supporters] are not coming, they are sending foliage or … other things that help,” Tengan said. “…Alums [also] made donations. That … really is what is at the heart of [the Lūʻau] — coming together as a family and community.”

Hōkūpa`a has also expanded to incorporate other Pacific Islander cultures in the Lūʻau, according to Tengan. This year’s Lūʻau featured Tongan and Fijian practices such as Tau’olunga — a Tongan women’s dance — and Meke, a Fijian dance, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth.

“It was really cool to see how into [the dances] people got, especially because a lot of [the audience members] have no experience with our cultures,” De Fries said. 

While dances are an important element of the Lūʻau, Ty Tengan emphasized that during his time at Dartmouth, Hōkūpa`a provided students with an outlet to advocate for indigenous claim to the land, and more than just the ability to “[be] able to speak our language and dance our dances.”

“The [movement] beyond the tourist’s notion of Hawaii can emphasize that this is about us remaining here in Hawaii, standing out to universities in America and other places around the world, and still remember who we are and take that back home as we continue to fight for our lands, our political future, as well as culture,” Tengan said.

Hōkūpa`a member Devan Wilhelm ’25 also said culture is ingrained in a person regardless of  distance. She added that Hōkūpa`a and the Indigenous community at Dartmouth help her feel connected to her culture while in Hanover.

“[Our culture] is so ingrained in who we are as the Hawaii and Pan-Pacifica group — it’s not something that we can forget and go away to college and not hold on to,” Wilhelm said. “I think that’s the whole purpose of what Lūʻau is — to show we haven’t forgotten who we are and these are the things that mean the most to us. If it weren’t for Hōkūpa`a and the native community, I would feel very far away from home.”

De Fries expressed her gratitude for the opportunity given to Hōkūpa`a to execute their annual Lūʻau and bring remnants of her culture to Dartmouth. 

“It’s so special that [Dartmouth] allows us the space and the funding because it’s a huge production, so it’s really cool to see the support that we have,” De Fries said. “I can’t even put into words how awesome it is to do [the Lūʻau] 5000 miles away from our home and farther for many others across the Pacific.”