The Hawaiian Flower Leis

May 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Hawaii Culture |

Comments Off

Of all the Hawaiian traditions, the giving of the flower lei is probably the most well known. All the way back to the royalty of Hawaii, the lei has been an iconic gesture throughout Hawaiian history.

Given as an expression of love, respect, and any number of other reasons, the lei is one of the most identifiable gestures in Hawaiian culture.

The lei is rich in Hawaiian tradition. The original lei was not made of flowers only. Original leis were made of anything from human hair, to bird feathers, to shells off the beautiful Hawaiian coastline. Over time, the leis developed into the more modern flower leis that have been seen throughout the last several decades. The Awapuhi flower is one of the more popular flowers used to construct leis today. All flowers used are colorful and fragrant, and can be quite elaborate.

Hawaiian leis came to Hawaii via the Polynesian travellers from Tahiti. These travellers brought along the beauty of the lei, and it originally was an expression of peace between rival tribes. They would often string the leis of tribes together to signify that they are at peace with one another. The leis also were used to signify individuality and beauty of individuals in the tribe. This tradition continues to this day as Hawaiians craft the beautiful leis every day.

Leis are often given to someone as they arrive in Hawaii, and they are also used to express love or respect. This custom is steeped in Hawaiian tradition, and the construction of the lei is a serious Hawaiian custom.

The lei flowers are produced in various hot houses of Hawaii, and then distributed to lei makers throughout the great state of Hawaii.

Putting together a lei is actually a labor of love and enjoyed by many Hawaiians. The method most commonly used is called the “kui” method. This method uses about 40 flowers, always fresh. You take a piece of string and a lei needle which is about twelve inches long with a knitting hook on the end, and work the flowers along the length of the string. This is a tedious process, as the flowers are quite delicate. After threading the flowers onto the string, you tie it off and you are done. Some leis get ribbons or other decor to dress them up.

The presentation of the lei has been done with tradition for many many years in Hawaii. Many famous people have received leis as an expression of Hawaiian love and respect. When presenting a Hawaiian lei, you should give a kiss on each cheek according to custom. Some leis should not be given to some people. For example, pregnant women are thought to be at risk for the health of their baby if they accept a lei. This is an old Hawaiian piece of folklore.

Leis are an important and enjoyable piece of Hawaii, and a great expression of the kindness and friendliness of the Hawaiian people.