Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 17, 2014

Learning my Hawaiian – lei

A traditional welcome for visitors to the islands is the lei – a garland of flowers that is given with a kiss. A welcome that has been popular for decades, its one of the hallmarks of Hawaiian hospitality.

Maui - Fairmont welcome lei

Arriving at the Fairmont Kea Lani, I was greeted with a floral lei – while men are greeted with leis made of black kukui nuts, its also common to see people wearing sea shell leis, although those are more decorative and not generally given as a welcome.

In the past, leis were constructed of all kinds of natural materials – leaves, flowers, bone, shell and feathers – are were not only a way of welcome, but a decorative item and an item used to signify a peace agreement.

This custom has always made Hawaii distinct to me – and as I also learned, once given a lei, one should never remove it in the presence of someone who gave it to you nor should you just discard the lei in the trash.

On the island of Oahu, visitors who used to travel by boat would toss their leis in the sea as they left the island, hoping to insure they would return to the island one day.

For me, I left my lei hanging in my hotel room window to dry – hoping it would provide joy to another and express my thanks. Mahalo!

 

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