Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Hawaiian lei

Mention the word "lei" and almost always you are reminded of Hawaii.  As in most Polynesian cultures the lei is an integral part of the Hawaiian culture, both ancient and modern.

Early sea-faring Polynesians brought the custom of making and wearing leis to Hawaii.  For them, the lei was not just an adornment for men and women alike; it was also a way of honoring the other and sharing and magnifying love and  Aloha.

In those days, the lei was offered by hand to an honoree as the head and shoulders were  said to be considered sacred by early Hawaiians and were never touched by another publicly.

In modern times, a lei is placed over the head until it rests on a recipient's shoulders with one half of the lei dangling on the back and the other half, in front.  Hanging a lei on another person's shoulders is usually followed by a kiss -- a no-no in Old Hawaii. Refusing a lei or taking it off in the presence of a giver is considered an insult both now and in the past.

Leis are made not just of flowers, leaves and seeds. Early Hawaiians also used hair, tooth, bird feathers, whale or walrus bones or a combination of different materials.

There  is a lei for the head (lei po‘o), another to hung around the neck and shoulders ( lei ‘ā‘ī), another for the wrist and ankles ( kūpe‘e).

May 1 is celebrated throughout Hawaii as Lei Day.  Most people go about their day in Hawaiian attire, with a lei either around their neck or on their head or both; and greeting each other Aloha.
Last Friday, May 1, I wore a lei on my head in honor of Lei Day and my adopted culture.

I got lei'd. And it was good!

Here I am wearing a po'o lei on my head.

- Posted with Aloha


  1. Interesting blog. I appreciate the historical context!

  2. Beautiful picture. Thanks for the info on a wonderful tradition.