Cover Thanksgiving Luau

Cover Thanksgiving Luau

Three years ago, Henry Voigt (who has a wonderful collection of menus that was written up in Gastronomica) sent me scans of this menu for a Thanksgiving luau and asked me if I could give him some background. I am no reposting a revised version of what I found, a story so poignant that it needs no commentary.

On July 7th 1898 President McKinley signed a resolution ordering that Hawaii, then an independent kingdom, be annexed as a territory of the United States. The news arrived in Hawaii a week later, to the delight of the annexationists (mainly Americans) and the despair of the native Hawaiians, who had already seen their Queen Liliuokalani deposed in 1893 by a Committee of Safety made up of Americans and Europeans.

On August 12th, the transfer of power took place. American troops marched to Iolani Palace in Honolulu. The resolution was read. The Hawaii anthem “Hawaii Ponoi” with words by King David Kalakaua was played for the last time as the anthem of an independent nation. The Hawaiian flag was lowered. The Stars and Stripes was raised and “The Star Spangled Banner” played.

Iolani Palace, Honolulu

Annexation Ceremony at Iolani Palace, Honolulu

“To the Hawaiian  born it was pathetic,” the Pacific Commercial Advertizer reported. As the last strain of Hawaii Ponoi trembled out of hearing, the wind suddenly held itself back.  The Hawaiian flag as it left the truck dropped and folded, and descended lifeless.  The American flag climbed slowly on its halyards, and just as it reached the truck, the trade wind breaking from its airy leash, caught it in its arms, and rolled it out to its full measure.”

The American troops in questions were the First New York Volunteers. As their train crossed the United States from New York to San Francisco, they were cheered by the crowds that gathered at railroad stations. In Honolulu, they were posted in the shadow of Diamond Head at one end of Waikiki beach. It was not much fun. Private Booth reported in a letter home:

We are not allowed much liberty so when we do get out we generally look for some fun or some one that can give us a feed as our food has been something fierce since we have been here. We steal all we can but but the Colonel has gotten on to our racket and has put mounted guards on all the roads leading from camp.


“The natives are a funny lot, half negro half malay they are intelligent and honest,” was another of Private Booth’s observations as he struggled unsuccessfully to place the Hawaiians in some intelligible universe.

These were the men that C.C. Kennedy and Laura Kennedy invited to a Thanksgiving luau at Waiakea Plantation, on the windward side of the Big Island, as the island of Hawaii is usually called. (Honolulu is on the island of Oahu).  They thought it sufficiently important to have this menu printed.

C.C. Kennedy was plantation manager.  He had a reputation for being charitable, kindly and strict with the Portuguese and Japanese who worked the sugar plantation.  His wife Laura Kennedy was parks commissioner, and used her own money to convert the old Hawaiian fish ponds in Hilo into Lili’uokalani Park.


Luau Menu

Luau Menu The menu is in Hawaiian on the left, in English on the right.

Here’s what the Kennedys offered the officers and men.

Fish from the fish ponds

Pig wrapped in Ti leaves (baked in an underground oven)

Sweet potatoes


Beef (ranching was becoming big business on the Big Island, the cattle having been dropped off a century before by George Vancouver, who succeeded Captain Cook.  This was standard practice for Navy provisioning.  In Hawaii, the cattle multiplied prodigiously).

Kukui nut (candlenut which would have been ground with salt to make a relish)



Poi (taro baked in an underground oven and pounded to a paste, the staple of the Hawaiians)

Kulolo (translated as Hawaiian pudding, coconut milk and taro mixed to a solid paste, very good)


Soda Water


Quite what the New Yorkers made of this Thanksgiving meal is not recorded.

Meanwhile, a photograph of a native feast or luau held about 1895 was reprinted as a postcard and widely circulated.

As Kaori O’Connor points out in her excellent essay on the luau (gated, I fear), this was a political statement not a joyful feast.  The calabashes that held poi are almost empty, the bowl in which it was traditionally pounded at the front completely empty.  The third figure on the left is the deposed Queen Liliuokalani.



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