Saturday, February 11, 2017


My orchid lei-  with Mary at Church

It seems wherever I go in Hawaii, they throw a lei or two over my head, the most beautiful being the orchid lei (see photo). But the other day I visited a small shop here is Waimea where I had purchased some cards by a local artist last time I was here. I saw some kukui nut leis, which I see all over. In my early days here, this nut lei was valuable and expensive. I asked the woman and she said today these cheap versions come from the Philippines. But she had one strung by a local artist. Needless to say it was out of my price range. When I went to pay for my cards she put the lei over my head and said: just pray for me. In the true Aloha spirit.

The Kukui is the state tree of Hawaii. The white Kukui nuts (in my lei), are very rare and turn to a deep honey color over time. Ministers, hula dancers and leaders wear these Kukui leis of light . They were worn by Royalty in the olden days.  

In Ancient Hawaii the Kukui oil was used to make light. Wicks were made from the spine of the frond leaf of the coconut palm. When many nuts were used together, they would burn for hours and these were the first torches. 
The nuts and bark of the Kukui are also made into dye for Kapa or Tapa cloth and on cloth for Hula or markings on sacred cloth for ceremony. The tree has a Spiritual meaning of light, hope, and renewal.

The lei custom was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by early Polynesian voyagers, who took an incredible journey from Tahiti, navigating by the stars in sailing canoes. With these early settlers, the lei tradition in Hawaii was born. They were often used by Native Hawaiians  to signify their ranks and royalty. They are also worn as a form of honor to each other and their gods. The religion of the Native Hawaiians as well as the hula custom is tied into the leis that they wore.

Leis were constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. In Hawaiian tradition, these garlands were worn by ancient Hawaiians to beautify themselves and distinguish themselves from others. The Maile lei was perhaps the most significant. Among other sacred uses, it was used to signify a peace agreement between opposing chiefs. In a Heiau (temple), the chiefs would symbolically intertwine the green Maile vine, and its completion officially established peace between the two groups. Today it is usually the men who wear the maile leis while the women are decked out in flowers.

I do not find the leis as frequently worn as in earlier days. We would even get a lei when we got off the plane in Honolulu. All of the major islands celebrate Lei Day, and each island is symbolized in pagentry by a specific type of lei and a color. Here on the Big Island the flower is the red ʻōhiʻa lehua. There are many methods of making the leis, usually depending on the flowers or other materials used.

ʻōhiʻa lehua. 
In Hawaiian mythology, ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were two young lovers. The volcano goddess Pele fell in love with the handsome ʻŌhiʻa and approached him, but he turned down her advances. In a fit of jealousy, Pele transformed ʻŌhiʻa into a tree. Lehua was devastated by this transformation and out of pity the other gods turned her into a flower and placed her upon the ʻōhiʻa tree. Other versions say that Pele felt remorseful but was unable to reverse the change, so she turned Lehua into a flower herself. It is said that when a lehua flower is plucked from an ʻōhiʻa tree, the sky will fill with rain representing the separated lovers' tears. 

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