Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hawaiian Leis

Yvy had commented and asked about the Hawaiian lei, and while browsing for more information, I found this site called Hawaii Flower Lei and they had a complete description which I am borrowing for this post.

The History of the Hawaiian Lei

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. Leis were constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. 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.

A Custom of Aloha

With the advent of tourism in the islands, the lei quickly became the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide. During the "Boat Days" of the early 1900s, lei vendors lined the pier at Aloha Tower to welcome malihini (visitors) to the islands and kama'aina (locals) back home. It is said that departing visitors would throw their lei into the sea as the ship passed Diamond Head, in the hopes that like the lei, they too would return to the islands again some day. With today's air travel, things are a little faster paced. But visitors can easily bring back the nostalgia of old Hawaii by ordering a traditional flower lei greeting for their arrival at the Honolulu International Airport. It's a warm, wonderful way to begin a Hawaiian vacation.

Lei Etiquette

There are very few "rules" when it comes to wearing a Hawaiian lei. Anyone can wear one, anytime - there need not be an occasion. It is perfectly fine for one to purchase or make a lei for themselves. It is common for locals to have a nut, seed or shell lei on hand to wear on special occasions. And hats are often adorned with flower, fern or feather leis. There are, however, a couple of "unspoken rules" one should know when receiving a lei for the first time. A lei should be a welcomed celebration of one person's affection to another. Therefore, always accept a lei, never refuse. The proper way to wear a lei is gently draped over the shoulders, hanging down both in front and in back. It is considered rude to remove a lei from your neck in the presence of the person who gave it to you, so if you must, be discrete. Lei giving is a regular part of any special occasion such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and graduations. It is not uncommon for a graduating senior to have so many leis around their neck that they can no longer see!

Popular Lei Styles

Melia - The most popular of all leis; made from the beautiful and fragrant Plumeria. Approximately fifty blossoms are hand-sewn to create a single strand circular lei. The flowers will fade but a great deal of the fragrance will last. Hang in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight until drying is complete.

'Okika or Orchid - This hardy blossom has a tropical allure and is available year round. The single strand, whole-flower 'Okika Lei is hand-sewn in circular fashion from approximately 50 blossoms. It captures the essence of these exotic islands and is a traditional favorite for both men and women.

Awapuhi (ginger) - Said to be one of the oldest lei flowers. Unfortunately, its scent doesn't last very long. To preserve a ginger lei, sprinkle with water, wrap it and keep it in the refrigerator.

Hala - This lei is made of the carved fruit of the hala tree (pictured here with laua'e fern). Hala lei have many meanings attached to them, both lucky and unlucky. It's said that giving a hala lei to someone running for office will certainly mean defeat, but the lei can also signify the completion of a venture or the beginning of a new one.

Tuberose - This flower is a native of Mexico and grown in Hawaii especially for lei-making. It's very fragrant and is a favorite of visitors. Keep a tuberose lei dry and in the refrigerator.

Maile - A very special lei noted for its rarity and considered by many to be the finest of all lei. It's an open-ended, horseshoe fashion lei made of the spicy scented green maile stems and leaves. Caring for a maile lei requires sprinkling it lightly with water and keeping it cool. Maile leis can also be dried out and used to scent drawers or closets.

How to Make a Lei

You can make your own lei from materials found right in your back yard! Literally any flowers, leaves, ferns, etc., may be used to make a lei. For your first time however, you should start with the basic single strand flower lei.Collect any medium sized flowers you can find - roses, daisies, carnations etc. You'll need about 50 blossoms for a 40" single strand lei. Cut about a 100" length cotton string, and fold it in half. Tie a large knot at the end of the twine - this will act like a "stopper" for your flowers as you string them. Remember to leave extra string below the knot - you will use this to tie the lei together upon its completion. In Hawaii, a steel lei needle, usually about 12 to 18 inches in length is used to string flowers, but any large needle will do. Go through the center of the face of the flower straight through to the back. Carefully guide the flowers to the base of the string near the knot - never force the flowers, you can always move them farther down later. You are finished when the lei is approximately 40" long. You may choose to dress your lei up with a ribbon, or just leave it au natural.

Click for a Step by Step Instructions (with photos) on How to Create a Basic Fresh Orchid Lei.

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