» Hawaiian History: Na Lei
Hawaiian History: Na Lei
As you step off the plane in Hawaii you are typically greeted with the warm sunshine, the cool ocean breezes, a welcoming Aloha, and a lei. Na lei (plural) weren’t always given to travelers but over the past 100 years have become a new tradition. Originally, the art of lei making started in Polynesian. In the South Pacific, many Polynesian cultures created na lei to honor their gods, intertwining green leaves and flowers to drape over their bodies. When the Polynesians settled
on the Hawaiian Islands, they brought over plants for eating, lei making, and other uses.
Once the islands were settled and voyages across the ocean halted, Hawaiians started making their own style of lei. This consisted of leaves, flowers, feathers, shells, nuts, and sometimes teeth from various animals. Nowadays there are many different varieties of na lei, but some of the most common types include: ti leaf intertwined with plumerias, shell, kukui nut, maile, and orchid.
A well-made lei can take hours to complete, not to mention the time for picking flowers, shells,
etc. With that said, na lei are signs of love, affection, farewell/safe travels, and congratulations.
One particular type of lei, made with malie leaves, was given to Ali’i or chiefs as a peace
offering. To remove a lei in front of the giver is consider rude and disrespectful. Also, na lei
need to be disposed of appropriately, either back to the earth or hung and dried in a house. Never
throw a lei away, for it is said that you are throwing away love.
Back in the early 1900’s when tourism became prevalent in Hawaii, lei stands lined the docks,
offering visitors a piece of Hawaiian history and culture. Now that tradition carries on, still
keeping the spirit of aloha strong in Hawaii.
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