A Brief History and Origin of the Hawaiian Lei
The lei is practically synonymous with Hawaiian culture, but where did they come from?
Maybe you were greeted with a Hawaiian lei the first time you landed in the state, or maybe you have just gotten used to seeing them on TV.
Either way, you have seen and are familiar with the lei, but what does it mean and where did it come from? Many people take the lei for granted, but there’s a rich and fascinating history behind it.
We’ve compiled a brief history of the Hawaiian lei just for you.
The History of the Hawaiian Lei
The history of the lei traces back to the origins of Hawaii as we know it today. The beautiful, lush islands of Hawaii weren’t populated until relatively recently. It makes sense when you think about the geographic location and distance from the mainland, but it’s not something you would typically think of.
The first inhabitants of the islands were Polynesian sailors who arrived there around 400-500 A.D. Even more surprising is the fact that these sailors made the voyage in finely crafted canoes! These were not our typical idea of canoes, rather a sturdier and larger watercraft that could hold larger numbers of people.
Still, a boat needs to be extremely fit to cross the ocean. The islands were already populated with birds and fish, but the mariners needed to supplement their diets, so they carried with them a variety of plant an animal species. The supplies that those people brought with them on large canoes grew and developed the habitable, beautiful human environment that we know and love.
Polynesians Brought the Lei With Them
The tradition of the lei was already established Polynesian culture before anyone inhabited Hawaii. Leis used to be adorned with different objects that aren’t used in practice as often these days.
Leis were originally embellished with flowers, leaves of plants, seashells, various seeds and nuts, bird feathers, bones, and other objects that held significance. Crafting leis became a sort of art, one which led to the fine pieces that we know today.
Because they were so integral to Hawaiian culture from its beginnings, it’s no surprise that the Hawaiians used the lei in several ways to signify large cultural ideas.
How Were Leis Used?
The ancients used leis to signify their status in society. This was and is a common theme across cultures. People tend to dress in a way that signifies a fact or idea about themselves, most commonly found in high-class groups which seek to make known their role in society.
Leis were a way to embellish one’s self in a beautiful way, expressing their identity as Hawaiians. The lei was political as well, coming into play when two opposing groups sought to unite. Hawaiian chiefs would come together to form peace agreements, tying the vines from two leis together to symbolize the unity of the two tribes.
Intertwining a vine from each tribe was officially the “signature” of the peace treaty, if you will, and was very significant to the agreement.
Leis were also used in the household and nearly everywhere else. Because the object had such a connection to the spiritual, Hawaiians crafted leis that were worn for nearly every task you can think of. Different colors and pedals held relationships with different gods and goddesses.
The red Lehua flower, for example, represented the volcano goddesses. People used to give offerings of these flowers, dropping them into the volcanos as a way to honor the gods. Many people still hold to tradition and give offerings to this day.
How We Know Leis Today
Visitors started coming to Hawaii in the late 1800s, and it was almost immediately a custom to greet those visitors with leis. This is part of the reason that leis are so synonymous with Hawaii– mainlanders have received them ever since they started coming!
The leis given at that time were true to the original, traditional version that held beautiful flowers and objects. Those still exist, but the tourism and popularity of the Hawaiian lei has lead to the majority of them being mass produced and plastic. While the lei still holds a positive association for most people, the fact that they are not handmade limits the significance.
The entire process of making and wearing leis was and is a spiritual practice. The objects are carefully selected, the art of crafting the lei is fine-tuned and difficult, and the differences between leis are significant to the task that is being done while wearing them. Unfortunately, the mass production strips the lei of some of its significance.
Ways to Honor the Tradition
If you’re planning to visit Hawaii, you can engage with the lei the old fashioned way if you wish to. The best way to do this is by ordering a flower lei greeting when you arrive at the airport. It may seem unusual to order a greeting for yourself, but you’ll be granted with a warm welcome and a beautiful lei, just like those who visited the islands hundreds of years ago.
Beyond that, there aren’t many rules to wearing a lei. It’s important to recognize, however, that it is a significant object to the people of Hawaii, and it shouldn’t be treated with disrespect. The lei exists as a greeting, a reminder, and a spiritual tool.
People give out leis at nearly every special occasion, so there is a strong association between celebration and achievement when someone wears a lei. Because of this, giving a lei is a common and ordinary thing in Hawaii. This leads to the only real rule that there is when it comes to receiving one– always accept it.
Unless you have an allergy or some other difficulty with the lei, it’s best to receive it warmly when given to you.
Come to Hawaii!
The islands are filled with adventure and excitement. The Hawaiian lei is far from the only cultural gem that the islands have to offer, and we want you to experience it fully. Start your trip by getting the best tips and tricks.
If you’re interested in learning more about a trip to Hawaii, we have all the information you need. You can also buy Hawaiian flowers from our beautiful collection.
Hawaiian flowers are famous around the world. The perfect climate in Hawaii allows many different tropical and other flowers to thrive. But were these beautiful blooms always here or were they brought in from afar?
Orchids are a quintessential Hawaiian flower. Orchids are found in many exotic locations around the world. They came to Hawaii with workers from Asia who came to work in sugar cane fields. Orchid hobbies soon evolved into commercial growing as the popularity of the flower expanded worldwide. Most growers are on the Big Island, known as ‘The Orchid Isle’. However, most islands have climates favorable to growing orchids. Nurseries can be found on Oahu and Maui as well.
There are endemic orchids include some very rare species found only on the island of Molokai. It is believed they may have originally come to the islands via migratory birds.
There are now many large nurseries dedicated to orchids. The seed stock mostly arrives from Taiwan though some local growers create their own crosses. Competition from factory farms in Taiwan and Thailand have created a great deal of price competition for Hawaiian growers most of which are family owned.
In addition to potted orchids and cut stems the orchid blooms are used in lei making. Again cheaper blooms from Thailand have taken from the Hawaiian grown flowers. Most orchid leis are made from dendrobium orchids.
Hanohano orchids are grown in trees and are found in many Hawaiian yards
Plumeria are very much identified with Hawaii. They grow in sunny spots and are seen in many yards and for landscaping. Is plumeria a native Hawaiian tree? Sorry, no. Plumeria are native to the Americas. The name comes from a European botanist name Plumier who first wrote about the tree. They were brought to Hawaii from Mexico in the 1800’s. The blooms are short lived and are white with yellow centers or various shades of pink. Plumeria are used for making leis though they are not so durable as orchid leis. Plumeria are prized for their fragrance. It can be extracted from the flower though this is a difficult process. Many cosmetics use simulated plumeria fragrances.
The flowers are toxic if eaten so keep them away from children and pets.
In Hawaiian the name can be said ‘Pua Melia’ with pua being the Hawaiian word for flower. Melia is a common name for girls in Hawaii. Plumeria is also know as frangipani. You can grow them in many places on the mainland. Water when there are leaves and stop when the leaves begin to drop.
Hibiscus is another favorite garden flower found in Hawaii. But it is another exotic coming from southeast Asia and Oceania. The soft flowers are somewhat short lived and are not sturdy enough for lei making. Hawaiian women will often wear a hibiscus in their hair. They can also be grown as a house plant and are grown outdoors in states like California and Florida.
Hibiscus is so popular in Hawaii it has been named the State Flower.
Anthurium is another Hawaiian classic. This beautiful flower was brought from Central America and it thrives in Hawaii with its similar climate. Anthurium are used for flower arranging and are know to be long lasting. Some anthurium can last up to a month after cutting. Soaking the entire stem and flower under clean water is one trick for a longer life. Anthurium like steady and warm temperature. A little cold exposure or too much heat can cause the flower to wilt.
Anthurium come in colors including red, green and pink. There are also variegated flower as well as smaller tulip types.
So while this flower is seen throughout the islands it is another exotic from the New World.
Protea are cultivated on the island of Maui. They grow well on the slopes of Haleakala. Many farms allow tourists to visit. But protea did not begin on Maui. Protea are originally from Africa and Australia. They grow on a sturdy bush and many can be kept as dried flowers. Types of protea include the large king and duchess. There is also the banksia that came from coastal Australia. Pincushion protea have delicate look. All protea have an unusual appearance in comparison to tropical flowers.
So please come to Hawaii and enjoy our amazing flowers. The fact that most came here from far away does not take away from their importance in Hawaiian life and culture.
The Story of the Banksia Flower
Have you heard of the Banksia Men? These were the villains of May Gibb’s “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”, a children’s book series first published in 1918. In it, the Banksia Men are drawn as the aged cones of Banksia trees with the follicles as facial features. It’s no wonder that Gibbs picked Banksia flowers as her inspiration. These huge, colorful flower spikes have tons of character. They bloom into flowers that look tubular or cone-shaped; they’re frequently a sunny yellow, red, orange, or green.
These stunning trees were first collected by a man named Joseph Banks, which is where they got their name. He collected them in Australia during Cook’s voyage of 1770. They were first described, however, in Australia in 1782. The banksia genus is a good traveler, and, in 1977, people started importing these amazing flowers to Maui for commercial cultivation.
These days Banksia flowers are beloved in gardens as shrubs that grow tall, filling in big spaces that require hardy plants. Gardeners keep them for the mammals and birds they attract with their large quantities of nectar, too. They produce a steady supply of nectar even when other sources dry up.
Beekeepers and the Aboriginals of Australia also like the continual flow of nectar these plants produce. The nectar is so plentiful that the people of south-western Australia used to suck on the flower spikes straight, as well as making a sweet drink out of it. They would soak the flower spikes in water, and it was as good as juice.
Commercially, they make great cut flowers, particularly the Banksia coccinea and the Banksia baxterii. Some of them even make good dry flowers. Banksia flowers add variety to any bouquet, from their bright colors to their leathery texture. They come fresh from protea farms on Maui where they luxuriate in the warm days and acidic soil that bring out their best blooms.
If you are looking for a flower with a little history and a lot of character, contact us about our Banksia flowers.
Kukui Nut: What’s It All About?
First brought to the islands by Polynesian explorers from Southeast Asia, Aleurites moluccana, or kukui, is the state tree of Hawaii. With light green foliage covered in a silvery-white powder, these trees can grow to a height of 80 feet, and they have beautiful and fragrant white flowers. Because the trees and their products are so versatile, kukui trees held an important place in the religion and daily lives of the ancients.
In older times, only royalty were allowed kukui nut leis, and the leis were cherished. Today, they are often given to arriving guests, and many people have added the candlenut leis, bracelets and anklets to their jewelry wardrobes. The bracelets are often shared during the exchange of wedding vows to represent the joining of the two spiritual lights of the bride and groom into a single, holy union.
Kukui nuts were a source of light in ancient times, as well. Originally, the nuts were skewered on wicks made from frond leaves from coconut palms, stuck into the ground or a pot of dirt or sand, and lit one by one. As they provided light, they also helped measure the passage of time. Later, the oils were extracted and burned in lamps.
Spiritually, the kukui trees were once held to be the physical form of Kamapua’a, the pig god of the island culture. The kukui ano ano, or kukui leis, were the first prayer beds used by the Hawaiian people, and they represent light, hope and renewal.
In addition to leis, spiritual symbolism and contemporary jewelry, the kukui nuts may be roasted, pounded and mixed with salt and chili peppers to make inamona, a delicious relish-like condiment. The oils were also used often as medicines and tonics for health. Today, the oils are often used as a skin moisturizer that creates a protective layer on dry skin that allows the area to heal naturally.
The oils and ashes of the burned nuts were used to dye tapa cloth and to polish and waterproof wooden bowls, as well as canoes and surfboards made from koa wood. Crushed nuts can be used to polish kukui nut leis, too.
To learn more about kukui nuts and other Hawaiian traditions, contact us.
3 Characteristics Unique to Hawaiian Weddings
The Aloha State is widely known as one of the best honeymoon destinations in the world. However, you don’t actually have to wait until you’re already married to appreciate the beautiful landscape of Hawaii. Instead, you and the love of your life can get married with the awe-inspiring features of the tropical island serving as a magnificent backdrop to your wedding day. Doing so will allow you and your significant other to enjoy characteristics unique to Hawaiian weddings.
Hear the Sound of Waves Crashing During the Wedding Ceremony
There’s no real need to hire a band when getting married on the beaches of Hawaii. The sound of the ocean’s waves crashing onto the shore is already wonderful music to the ears. So you’ll get to save money by not having to hire a band. Yet, your wedding guests will be afforded the opportunity to listen to the wonderful sound of nature while the two of you recite your wedding vows.
Feel Sand Between Your Toes
Hate having to go through an entire day of wearing formal dress shoes? Then come to Hawaii to get married and feel sand between your toes instead. When you’re having a beach wedding, there’s no expectation for wearing formal footwear. Hence, you’ll get to wear sandals or simply go without shoes throughout the entire wedding ceremony.
And don’t be afraid to make it casual. An aloha shirt is perfectly acceptable for an authentic Hawaiian wedding.
Take Incredibly Gorgeous Wedding Pictures
When your wedding is taking place on one of the most visually stunning islands in the world, it’s almost impossible to not have incredibly gorgeous wedding pictures. The ocean, waterfalls, and palm trees all help to create a stunning background for the most perfect wedding picture. Just don’t forget to contact us beforehand to add some nice floral touches to the amazing scenery.
Top Hawaiian Snacks for the Foodie in Your Life
Hawaii is full of delicious treats and snacks to the casual tourist. Whether you’re looking for the best snack to munch on at the beach or looking for the ideal souvenir gift for the foodie in your life, here are the top Hawaiian snacks to consider for every occasion!
Lounging at the Beach:
So you’re in Hawaii and decide to go to the beach. Unless you’re planning to pack an entire luau feast to take along you’re going to need some snacks to munch on while taking in the sun and surf. Why not enjoy some local delicacies to really have the proper island experience? One of the best Hawaiian snacks to pack along for a long day at the beach is Li Hing Mui and dried fruit! When the Chinese people immigrated to Hawaii they brought along their knowledge of drying fruit with salt to preserve the flavor. Plums are arguably the best preserved fruits and “li hing mui” literally means “traveling plum” in Chinese! Some other delicious preserved fruits to take to the beach include dried coconut, dried pineapple, and dried papaya. Not only are the local treats delicious, but the salt will replenish the body after sweating it out at the beach and helps with muscle cramps for those activities like swimming and surfing.
Gifts to Take Home:
Everyone rues the end of a vacation. That’s especially true for those enjoying the days amongst the beautiful Hawaiian beaches and mountainous terrain. What’s even more trying is finding the perfect souvenir for those friends and family back home wanting a piece of Hawaii for themselves. Well fear not, because the best souvenir is one that everyone can enjoy and it’s easy to pack into a suitcase. If you’re having trouble deciding what Hawaiian treat to take back home and give as gifts look no further than a delicious box of chocolate macadamia nuts! A box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts are cheap and can be found in virtually any convenience or gift shop on the Hawaiian islands. Not only that, but they have a rich history with the Hawaiian people since 1927 and make the perfect easy and light gift to take back home for someone you care about.
For those who have tree nut allergies or don’t like the macadamia variety another gift option is 100% Kona coffee! Hawaii is known for its locally sourced coffee beans and nothing is more Hawaiian than the Kona bean. It is cultivated only on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa on the largest island of Hawaii. There are over 600 farms on the Big Island selling coffee. It’s been a recognized brand of coffee globally since the late 19th century and a perfect gift for the caffeine lover in your life.
Of course these aren’t the only two options and Hawaii offers various delicious treats to snack on while the go or to add to a gift basket. Some other options include wasabi rice crackers, lemon or ginger crack seed, assortments of nuts, and flavored mochi! The tasty options are limitless!
For more information on Hawaiian culture or to bring a piece of Hawaii into your life with a personalized bouquet of Hawaiian flowers please feel free to contact us today!