Hawaii is one of the few places I’ve travelled to where I’ve felt so very welcomed; and I’m pretty sure it’s the tradition of the lei that had something to do with it!
What is a lei?
A lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent to be worn. In Hawaiian culture the most popular concept of a lei is a wreath of fresh native flowers draped around the neck and presented upon arrival or departure as a symbol of affection. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled though as you may also come across some non-flower lei too.
The History of the Hawaiian Lei
The lei was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by early Polynesian voyagers who navigated their way by stars from Tahiti. In early Hawaiian tradition lei were constructed from flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers and even animal bones; and were traditionally worn by ancient Hawaiian’s to distinguish themselves from others.
The Aloha Custom
During the ‘boat days’ of the early 1900’s lei vendors lined the Aloha Tower pier to welcome malihini (visitors) and kama’aina (locals) to the islands. It’s rumoured that departing visitors would through their lei into the sea as they passed Diamond Head in the hope that they, like the lei, would return to the islands one day.
As tourism grew, the lei quickly became the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide, and today greeters welcome visitors to the islands with an ‘aloha’ and an adornment of beautiful fresh leis upon arrival to the islands.
There are very few ‘rules’ when it comes to wearing a lei; however there are a few ‘unspoken rules’ that it’s worth taking note of…
- Never refuse a lei
A lei is a symbol of one person’s affection to another so be sure to always accept one.
- Wear it correctly
The proper way to wear a lei is to gently drape it over the shoulders, hanging down both in front and on the back
- Don’t be rude
It’s considered rude to remove a lei from your neck in front of the person who presented it to you.
- Never throw it away
Leis should never be thrown away casually or tossed in trash. A lei represents love, and to throw it away represents throwing away the love of the giver. Traditionally they should be returned to the place they were gathered, however if that’s not possible they should be returned to the earth by hanging in a tree, burying or burning.
And as a final interesting fact to leave you with – the Hawaiian language doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural. So the proper way to speak of multiple lei is quite simply lei!
Want to get lei’d?
Make sure you get yourself to global so you can experience this fabulous tradition first hand!
About the Author
Becca is an avid traveller, a trained copywriter and one of Australia’s leading video marketers. As a creative content producer she’s pumped to be engaging, entertaining and intriguing the FCTG nations with written and visual communications in the run up to Global.