The flower lei (Necklace) is one of the most representative symbols of Hawai’i. Thousands of tourists arrive daily and expect to receive their lei and aloha being welcomed to the islands. While it is a beautiful holiday ornament for tourists, for Hawaiians it represents much more than that. The use of the flower lei takes hundreds of years of life, being the Polynesians who arrived from Tahiti who incorporated this tradition in Hawai’i and, today, it is one of the most typical and important customs for the locals.
Formerly these ornaments were made of flowers, leaves, seeds, feathers, bones, and animal teeth, however, those that are maintained and used today are the first three. The Hawaiian leis, like ones from alohaislandlei.com, were used for ornamental purposes and served to distinguish themselves from other natives as a symbol of status or hierarchical order. In addition to this, it could represent a peace agreement between opposing groups when they exchanged leis between them.
Then with the arrival of tourists to the islands around the year 1900, the welcome to Hawai’i began to become known with the flower lei and the tradition of throwing it into the sea in front of the Diamond head, with the hope of one day returning to the archipelago. The times we have visited the islands, we have taken up the tradition of exchanging leis in front of the Diamond Head and then each one has left his lei in the sea asking Hawai’i to allow us one day to return to their lands and as a thank, you for the moments lived there.
If you are in Hawai‘i you can buy your flower lei and wear it whenever you want. Anyone can wear one, regardless of the occasion. However, there are some rules regarding these Hawaiian leis that you should keep in mind if you are going to Hawai’i and mingling with local people:
If a Hawaiian gives you a flower lei, he is expressing respect and affection towards you. This is why you should receive it with great gratitude and never deny it or immediately take it out in front of that person.
There is also a way to use it, it must fall on your shoulders and neck. Pregnant women should wear an open collar, otherwise they will be unlucky in the future. It is said that the lei would represent the umbilical cord surrounding the baby’s neck.
You should never throw a lei in the trash, as it would mean that you are throwing away the love of the person who gave it to you. This always has to go back where it came from, to nature. Many people leave them hanging on a tree or directly on the ground, bury them, or burn them. And if you want to return to Hawai’i, you must leave it to the sea and let nature do its thing.
For Hawaiians, every important celebration is a good time to wear a flower lei. Even if there is no real reason to celebrate, they may just use it to celebrate life and make the day more festive. The most important occasions to wear a flower lei are:
A baby’s first birthday is quite an important occasion in Hawai’i and as such, they celebrate it with lots of food, music, and a big party. According to flowerleis.com, on that occasion, parents can exchange flower leis with each other, give one to their child, and in some circumstances have a flower lei for each guest as a token of welcome, respect, and affection. Every time they give each other flower leis, they do so by giving a kiss on the cheek, on the forehead, or with a loving hug, giving a bit of aloha spirit and showing love for the other.
It is a very important occasion to wear one, as it symbolizes in love that the couple has each other. The guests can also use it, as witnesses of that great event celebrating love. The lei used by the groom is open and made of leaves, unlike the one used by the bride, which is intertwining flowers which can be of different types, the most typical being that of white orchid. The bride can also wear a flower crown if she prefers. It is common for the exchange of leis between the groom and the bride during the ceremony, but they can be delivered in different ways during the celebration. Each couple or family can choose when to do it and how it will be done. During the wedding, it is common for the kahuna polish or holy man to wear a lei of seeds or leaves.
Giving a flower lei to a graduate is a beautiful way to show love and admiration for them. Sometimes it can also represent good luck for the future. Strolling through Hawai’i we had to see various posters in which they congratulated the graduates with first and last names, something that at least we had never seen elsewhere.
A luau is a very meaningful Hawaiian celebration party for them. Formerly the natives celebrated the luau when they obtained a great harvest, when there was a birth, to honor the gods or when they won a battle. All who attend can wear a flower lei to accompany the reason for the celebration. In a luau, in addition to the lei, food is very important, where different types of traditional dishes are presented, poke, pork, wild boar, poi, fruits, vegetables, etc. These parties are always accompanied by good food, lots of music, and often people dancing the hula as well.
Sometimes couples exchange leis as a token of the love that is still present between them. Love and marital ties have been formed, just as the lei has been woven, joining different pieces and resulting in a beautiful and harmonious set. An anniversary is a perfect occasion to celebrate the love and union between them. The circular lei represents love in its eternity just like the wedding ring.
The lei can be used as a symbol of love, respect and to say goodbye to the person who left this world. This is presented as a gift to the person who passed away or is left somewhere important to him. They can also be used to decorate the space where the person has said goodbye, surrounding their photos with leis or cover the coffin, as well as, it can be used by family members. Or, people can simply wear a gift lei to the family to provide support in that painful time. Some Hawaiians throw the flower lei into the sea to remember the person who passed away, as we could see it in the floating lantern festival, many lanterns in addition to messages, they carried photographs and flower leis to decorate.
Blessings or ceremonies
A Hawaiian or kahuna priest offers blessings to newborns, to a new business, to people celebrating their honeymoon or new home. It is part of the celebration to wear a flower lei, also accompanied by songs and dances. Some people who received blessings may present a lei to the kahuna to thank the blessings.
In Hawaiian, every occasion is a reason to celebrate life, spread the aloha spirit, and show affection towards others. And wearing a flower lei today means all of that, celebration, aloha, and love.