The Hawaiian flower lei, known for their soft fragrance and bright colors of tropical petals, it is one of the most iconic traditions in Hawaiian culture. These hand crafted garlands have been a created for centuries. Made from leaves and flowers, as well as shells, nuts and even hair, a lei symbolizes the beauty and aloha of Hawaii.

What is a lei?

The dictionary definition of a lei is simply a garland or a wreath. The true definition is much more complex. A Hawaii lei is not just a strand of flowers or leaves.

Lei can used as a way to symbolize the different islands of Hawaii. They are made in honor of the gods of Hawaii. And can even be a way to celebrate a birthday or a graduation.

What are some types of lei?

There are a number of styles of lei. They are not all just the circle of flowers that many people are familiar with.

Styles of Lei:

  • Kui – This is the most common style and it is made by piercing and stringing flowers, nuts and other materials. For a lei kui, you use a long lei needle, usually at least eight inches or longer, and the lei materials are threaded, and then strung together till it looks like a necklace. Many different types of flowers are used, but the most popular are plumeria and orchid.
  • Hilo – Often made with ti leaves, hilo lei are crafted like a rope. The ti leaf are softened by using the heat of your hand, or if you need to speed things up, a microwave or iron work too! If you have more time, you can put the leaves in the freezer over night.The ti leaf are then twisted together to fashion a lei that can be either open ended, or worn as a circle around your neck, head, wrists or ankles. A hilo lei can be quite messy to craft since the leaves give off green plant juice. While you twist the leaves, it can get very sticky!
  • Haku – While a haku lei is often the go to term for a lei made into a head wreath, the word haku actually just means to craft a lei that is woven or braided in some may. If you go to a store and ask for a haku lei, you will usually get flowers or leaves that are woven together to wear around your head.
  • Lei Po’o – The word “po’o” means head in Hawaiian, so a lei po’o is any lei that is worn around the head. What is often referred to as a haku lei is actually a lei po’o crafted in the haku style.
  • Lei ‘A’i – When one thinks of a lei, this is the style that most people think of. It is a circular necklace or long strand of flowers or leaves that is worn about the neck, or draped over the shoulders.
  • Lei Papale – A fantastic choice if you are looking for a long lasting lei, since this style is tied around the crown of a hat. If you use flowers and leaves that dry nicely, it can basically last forever!

What is the history of the lei?

Lei have been worn for centuries in Hawaii for both decorative and spiritual reasons. When Polynesians first arrived into Hawaii, they also brought their tradition of wearing local leaves, vines and flowers.

To honor their pantheon of gods, they would weave and string native plants together, and also brought these plants on their journey.

When they settled into the Hawaiian islands around 750 AD, the Polynesian explorers also brought with them a variety of plants for both food and medicinal use.

As the years went by, the lei in Hawaii became more distinct to the islands, and while still similar to the lei and garlands crafted in Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and more.

When do you wear a lei?

There are many different occasions to wear and receive a lei! Since a lei is often given during times of celebration, almost any time is the perfect time to wear a lei.

  • Birthdays
  • Graduation
  • Wedding
  • Hula performances

How do you make a lei?

  • Coming soon!