The Hawaiian Game of Lu-Lu

Lu-Lu, or Hawaiian Dice, was an ancient Polynesian gambling game.

Hawaiian dice


The early history of Hawaii is uncertain. The most widely-held hypothesis is that colonists from the Marquesas Islands arrived at the volcanic archipelago in around 300 CE. When the British explorer Captain James Cook reached the area in January 1778, he dubbed them the Sandwich Islands, after the English Earl of Sandwich who had financed the voyage.

For a time, no other European ships reached Hawaii. But a young warrior-chief named Kamehameha recognized that they would eventually return, and set out to unify the islands under his rule—the only way his people would have the strength to fight off any new interlopers. By 1794, with the help of British and American traders, Kamehameha had built up an overwhelming military force, and turned it against his fellow chieftains. One by one, with a combination of conquest and diplomacy, he won control over each of the islands. In 1810, the process was complete: the Kingdom of Hawaii was declared, and Kamehameha I became its ruler.

Kamehameha quickly moved to create Hawaii’s place in the modern world: he adopted Western dress, imported Western technology and knowledge, and allowed Western traders to settle. The Westerners quickly took over. The traditional Hawaiian religion was suppressed by the government, and missionaries were invited in. Schools, run by the churches, were established which taught spoken and written English to the students (the Native Hawaiians had no written alphabet). The intent was to turn the Native Hawaiians into Westerners. As a result, much of Hawaii’s indigenous culture was forgotten and lost.

Today, native Hawaiians are attempting to resurrect their lost culture, including its games. And one game that was popular in the past was Lu-Lu.

Lu-Lu, or Hawaiian Dice, was first described by an anthropologist in 1899. The name means “to shake”, and the dice were called “u-lu”. The game was a favorite of royalty and the wealthy, who often gambled away huge amounts of material goods.


There is no game board. All that is needed to play Lu-Lu are the four dice and a pad and pencil to keep score. Hawaiian dice were made from wooden discs or flat shells which were traditionally painted white with a red cross and dots. Today, the disks can be cut from cardboard or posterboard or something similar; the heavier they are, the better they will work. Dots can also be drawn onto poker chips, or they can take the form of flat dice sticks made with wooden popsicle or craft sticks. One side of each die is kept blank, and the other side is marked with one, two, three, or four dots.

To Play

The first Player shakes the four dice in his hands and throws them. If any of the dice land with a blank side facing up, the Player can gather those up and toss them once again. The total number of dots then showing is the score for that round. If on the first throw all of the dice show dots, for a score of ten, the Player gathers them all up and tosses them once more, and that score is added to his original ten points for the first throw.

The point total is cumulative from round to round, and the first Player to reach 50 points wins.


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