Hawaiian lei-making

horse & rider w/leis
A rider in a parade in Hilo wears variety of flower leis
Photo by Carl Viti


 lei making All Polynesians practise the making and giving of lei. From early times, Hawaiians have fashioned lei from shells, seeds, bone, and feathers and from more temporary materials such as leaves, vines, and a few indigenous flowers. Over the years, newcomers to the islands introduced many new species of flowers that are now enjoyed by lei makers, but techniques of fashioning lei have remained typically Hawaiian. Colorful flowers and greenery are braided, twisted, wrapped, or strung together to create lei for the neck, head, wrists and ankles. Photo of lei-maker Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele at 1989 Festival of American Folklife, courtesy Smithsonian Institution

In early Hawai'i the lei was symbolic of esteem for gods, loved ones, and oneself. Remarkably diverse and spectacular lei are made and given for marriages, birthdays, lu'aus, and funerals. The Hawai'i State Legislature opens with thousands of lei-bedecked representatives, senators and well wishers. Leis are also given on informal occasions to express gratitude or warmth of friendship.

Traditional arts from Borderlands


24 Sept 1996