Lei (Hawaii)

Lei (Hawaii)

"Lei" is a Hawaiian word for a garland or wreath. More loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent to be worn. The most popular concept of a "lei" in Hawaiian culture is a wreath of flowers draped around the neck presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection. This concept was popularized through tourism between the Hawaiian Islands and the continental United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Samoa, a similar garland is called an ula.

Children and sweethearts are poetically referred to as "lei" and many ancient and modern songs and chants refer to this imagery.


A lei ("nā lei" is the plural in the Hawaiian language) may be composed of a pattern or series of just about anything, but most commonly consists of fresh natural foliage such as flowers, vines, or fern fronds. Among the flowers used are the plumeria, lehua blossom or the orchid, though maile leaves are extremely popular as well as traditional among hula dancers. Other types of lei may include sea or land shells, feathers, plastic flowers, fabric, paper (including origami and monetary bills), candy, words (as in a song), or anything that can be strung together in a series or pattern and worn as a wreath or a necklace.


The eight most common methods of making lei are:

haku - three-ply braid incorporating additional materials. A method of making a lei by using a base material, such as softened tree bark or long leaves, and braiding it while adding the decorative plant material into each wrap of the braid. Normally used for flowers and foliage with long pliable petioles or stems.

hili - braid or plait with only one kind of material. Most commonly made from three or more strands of supple vine or fern braided together.

hilo - twist, double helix, intertwine. A method of making a lei by twisting two strands together to form a "rope." The popular and simple "lei laokinai" (ti leaf lei) is made using this method.

hipuokinau / nipuokinau - a method of making a lei by knotting the stems of the decorative plant material and stringing the next stem through the knot. It requires a very long stem on the decorative material. Similar to a daisy chain.

humu / humuhumu - sew to a backing, usually using a basting stitch. A method of making a lei by sewing the decorative material to a backing such as lau hala, la`i, paper, or felt. Each successive row of lei material is overlapped on the previous to create a scale-like effect. Bougainvillea lei and feather hat lei often are made with this method.

kui - pierce, piercing stitch. A method of making a lei by sewing or piercing the decorative material with a needle and stringing it onto a thread. This is probably the style with which most Westerners are familiar. This method is commonly used to string flowers such as frangipani, rose, carnation, etc.

wili - wind, twist, crank, coil. A corkscrew-type twist, as found in a pig's tail and the seed pod of the wili-wili tree. A method of making a lei by winding fiber around successive short lengths of the decorative material. Sometimes base materials such as lau hala (pandanus), laokinai, strands of raffia, or even strips of paper are used to make wrapping easier.

haku mele - to braid a song. A song composed out of affection for an individual is considered a lei.

Lei may be open or closed, depending on circumstance.


Ti Leaf Lei is a type of lei, thin and braided, that can be entirely made from only fresh green leafs of the Ti plant, coming in either close loop or open loop variation.cite web
title=Ti and Leaf Lei

Maile Lei is another type of lei, having a looser and whole leafy appearance, that can be made entirely of fresh green leafs but from the Maile vine, in open loop variation.


There are many customs and protocols associated with the giving, receiving, wearing, storing, and disposing of lei.

In modern times, a lei is usually given with a kiss - a custom which began in World War II. Traditionalists, however, give a lei by bowing slightly and raising it above the heart, allowing the recipient to take it, as raising the hands above another's head, or touching the face or head, is considered disrespectful.

By tradition, only open lei are given to a pregnant or nursing woman.

If due to allergies or other reasons a person cannot wear a lei which has just been given (for instance a musician who would tangle the lei in his or her guitar strap), the lei is displayed in a place of honor, such as the musician's music stand or microphone stand.

Lei should never be thrown away casually, or tossed into the trash. Traditionally they should be returned to the place they were gathered, or if that is not possible, they should be returned to the earth by hanging in a tree, burying, or burning. A lei represents love, and to throw one away represents throwing away the love of the giver.


In Polynesian cultures, a lei is something that is created by someone and given to another with the intent to decorate that person for an emotional reason—usually as a sign of affection. Common reasons include greeting, farewell, affection or love, friendship, appreciation, congratulation, recognition, or to otherwise draw attention to the recipient.


Among residents of Hawaiokinai, the most popular occasions at which lei can be found are birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, retirement parties, and bridal showers. It is not uncommon for a high school or college graduate to be seen wearing so many lei that they reach his or her ears or higher. [ [http://starbulletin.com/98/05/25/news/story1.html Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News ] ] [ [http://www.hawaiianseaburialcompany.com/ A Hawaiian Sea Burial Company Home Page ] ]

On May 1, Hawaiians celebrate "Lei Day," first conceived in 1927 by poet Don Blanding. At the time, Blanding was employed by the "Honolulu Star Bulletin", and he shared his idea with columnist Grace Tower Warren, who came up the phrase, "May Day is Lei Day". The Hawaiian song, "May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii" was composed in 1927 by Ruth and Leonard "Red" Hawk. [cite web
title = A History of Lei Day
work = Lei Day Celebration
publisher = City and County of Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation
date = 2008
url = http://www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/programs/leiday/history.pdf
accessdate =2008-05-09

At the 81st Annual Mayor's Lei Day Celebration at Kapiolani Park, Honolulu set the record for the World's Longest Lei. Unofficially, the lei measured 5,336 feet in length, more than a mile. "We exceeded our goal," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann. "We were hoping to reach one mile. I want to thank the people of Honolulu, and especially the dedicated and hard working members of our Department of Parks and Recreation in addition to our corporate sponsors and volunteers, for making Lei Day 2008 the biggest and best in recent memory."cite web |url=http://gohawaii.about.com/cs/festivals/a/lei_day_hawaii.htm|title=Lei Day in Hawaii|last=Fischer|first=John|publisher=About.com]



* http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-tr-leibox27apr27 Finding a lei-making class in Hawaii] Featured article in LA Times.

External links

* [http://www.coffeetimes.com/leis.htm History of the Lei]

* [http://www.KaaheleHawaii.com/pages/culture_lei.htm Na Lei o Hawai`i]

* [http://www.beyondbordersimages.com/editorial.html Photo Gallery from Lei Day]

Further reading

cite book
last = McDonald
first = Marie A.
title = Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawaii
publisher = Ku Pa'a Publishing
year = 1995
isbn = 978-0914916321

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lei — Leis redirects here. LEIS is an abbreviation for low energy ion scattering. Lei may refer to:* Lei, the singular formal form of you in Italian (informal : tu) * Lei, the plural form of Leu , the name of two currencies. See Romanian leu and… …   Wikipedia

  • lei — lei1 [lā, lā′ē] n. pl. leis [Haw] in Hawaii, a wreath of flowers and leaves, generally worn about the neck lei2 [lā] n. pl. of LEU …   English World dictionary

  • Lei (garland) — Fragrant lei of fresh pikake (Arabian jasmine). Lei is a Hawaiian word for a garland or wreath. More loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent to be worn. The most popular concept of a lei in Hawaiian culture …   Wikipedia

  • Lei Aloha — Infobox Album | Name = Lei Aloha Type = Studio Album Artist = melody. Released = flagicon|Japan April 9th, 2008 Recorded = 2007 2008 Genre = J Pop Length = Label = Toy s Factory Producer = Reviews = Last album = Ready to Go! (2006) This album =… …   Wikipedia

  • Hawaii — /heuh wuy ee, wah , wah yeuh, hah vah ee/, n. 1. a state of the United States comprising the N Pacific islands of Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau, and Oahu: a U.S. territory 1900 59; admitted to the Union 1959. 965,000;… …   Universalium

  • Lei (Schmuck) — Hula Tänzerin mit Leis Als Lei (hawaiisch, pl. Na Lei oder Lei) bezeichnet man den in Hawaiʻi üblichen Halsschmuck aus Blüten (zum Beispiel Orchideen), Samen, Federn oder anderen Materialien.[1] In früheren Zeiten wurden auch Tierzähne oder… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • lei — lei1 /lay, lay ee/, n., pl. leis. (in the Hawaiian Islands) a wreath of flowers, leaves, etc., for the neck or head. [1835 45; < Hawaiian] lei2 /lay/, n. pl. of leu. * * * ▪ Hawaiian garland       a garland or necklace of flowers given in …   Universalium

  • lei day — noun Usage: usually capitalized L&D : May Day in Hawaii celebrated with pageants and prizes for the most beautiful or distinctive leis * * * Lei Day, May 1, a holiday in Hawaii in which leis are worn and competitions for the most attractive leis… …   Useful english dictionary

  • lei — I [[t]leɪ, ˈleɪ i[/t]] n. pl. leis (in Hawaii) a wreath of flowers, leaves, etc., worn around the neck • Etymology: 1835–45; < Hawaiian II lei [[t]leɪ[/t]] n. pl. of leu …   From formal English to slang

  • lei — noun /leɪ/ a) A garland of flowers in Hawaii. b) a law …   Wiktionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.