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What Is The Hawaiian Traditional Lei?

Aug 17, 2007
People are getting lei'd in Hawaii every day. No,not the dirty thought you may have in your mind.

What exactly is a Hawaiian lei then? Well, a lei is a beautiful tropical floral or sea shell garland made and stringed together from sweet fragrant tropical flowers and usually presented to visitors to Hawaii to be draped around their necks by beautiful Hawaiian native girls. The lei is a welcoming gesture and as well as gift to tourists, VIPs or simply to people the Hawaiian people appreciates.

Hawaiian natives are very proud of their tradition, custom and culture and they are also very polite people.That is why the lei is so much more than merely just a simple decorative necklace of flowers and sea shells. They are the Hawaiian way of saying hello,congratulations, respect, welcome, sympathy or a loving couple's gift to say "I love you". According to Hawaiian legends, the first lei was given by Hiiaka, the sister of the volcano goddess Pele. Hiiaka garlanded Pele with a lei of the fragrant lehua flower blossoms.

The leis were traditionally given to high ranking village tribal chiefs and accompanied by a bow by the giver. This was because it was forbidden for common villagers to raise their arms higher than the village chief's head.

The presentation of a lei with a kiss was rumoured to have started during world war 2 when a entertainer dancer kissed an American officer on a dare. That was presumed to have started the tradition of presentation of a lei with a a kiss on the cheek.

Making a lei is a complicated artistic art form. All leis are handmade in a variety of patterns and styles. Some are sewn with hundreds of flowers or sea shells and some others, a mixture of leaves and ferns. Every Hawaiian island has its own special flower for making the lei. On the island of Muai, leis are made from rose. On Oahu, it is the orange ilima flower. On Hawaii's Big Island, leis are made from the lehua blossoms, the same flowers used by Hiiaka when she put the first Hawaiian lei on Pele.

On the island of Molokai, kukui is the preferred flower and in Kauai, the mokihana is the choice for making the lei. On Lanai, it is the kaunaoa and in Niihau, they prefer sea shells leis instead of flowers and blossoms.

Leis are available everywhere in Hawaii. You can find them at the airport, lei shops especially in Maunakea Street, in Chinatown and other tourist areas. You can even ask your tour company to send you a lei greeter to welcome you at the airport.
About the Author
Chris Chew is an author and a travel writer. More of his articles at Exotic Scuba Diving locations and
Vacations in Hawaii
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