Hoʻāo – Hawaiian Weddings


Kapaʻa Wedding
The bride and her women prepare for a wedding steeped in Hawaiian tradition.

Many people who visit Hawaiʻi are interested in learning about “traditional” Hawaiian weddings. Hawaiian tradition can vary greatly from island to island, from district to district, from family to family, and from era to era.

In ancient times, there was no ceremony comparable to the modern wedding. Marriage, as it is known in the Western World today, did not exist in the Hawaiian Islands. There was no government licensing, no legal requirements, and no divorce – if a couple decided that their relationship was no longer productive, they simply parted ways. As children were reared by the entire extended family, there was little disruption in the life of the youngsters.

Among the maka`ainana, the common people, pairing could be as simple as deciding to share a sleeping mat and start a family, or as elaborate as the two families getting together, exchanging gifts, and singing as the couple retires to bed. As the house generally was the woman’s property, to separate, the man’s belongings might simply be removed from the home. Today, we know these kinds of common-law marriages as noho pu.

Royalty had far more elaborate ceremony when pairing off, though it was not intended to confirm a marriage in the western sense. The ceremony was to ask the blessing of the gods on the children of a royal union, to assure that they were born with perfect bodies and minds, and great mana, or spiritual power.

The bride and groom are wrapped in kapa as part of the ceremony.

Again, ceremonies varied according to locale and family, and could be as simple as the royal couple being escorted to their new sleeping hale and wrapped together in a sheet of pure white kapa with their family priests and chanters offering prayer and song for the union and offspring, to elaborate ceremonies of several days length involving hundreds of the courts’ priests and chanters, relatives, and interested parties. These ceremonies are sometimes called hoʻāo.

     After the introduction of Christianity in 1819, the Christian style wedding was adopted by many families and eventually became the legal form.
The term is simply transliterated from the English word “marry” – male pronounced [MAH-lay].

Hawaiian Wedding Attire

The bride’s attire at a Hawaiian wedding ranges from holokū, a traditional Hawaiian formal gown, to the Western white bride’s gown, to simple mu`umu`u. The groom may wear formal Hawaiian attire with a sash matching the bride’s holokū, a Western style suit, or a white or light-colored aloha shirt and light colored slacks. Or, they may choose an entirely different esthetic. There are no hard and fast rules.

For more information, you may enjoy these articles:
White Lace and Promises, Ke Ola Magazine
The Holokū, Ke Ola Magazine
Hoʻomanaʻo Mau: A Lasting Rememberance, Ke Ola Magazine  
Ke Ola Magazine Wedding and Special Occasions 2015 Edition
Ke Ola Magazine Wedding and Special Occasions 2014 Edition

Hawaiian Wedding Lei

Lei Maile
Lei maile

In a Hawaiian wedding, the bride and groom, and the wedding party, often will wear lei. Probably the lei most associated with weddings is the lei maile. It’s heady scent evokes images of romance, and indeed, throughout Hawaiian history, myth, and legend, it is associated with courtship and romance. Often, both the bride and groom will wear maile, either alone or with floral lei kui intertwined. Sometimes only the bride will add a floral lei. Sometimes the bride will wear a fragrant floral lei intertwined with the maile, and the groom will wear `ilima intertwined with his lei maile. But, again, there are no hard and fast rules.

Feeding each other cake, poi, or anything else, symbolizes that the couple will nurture each other through life, and HOW they do so on the wedding day is considered a symbol of how they will do so in the future. Mashing cake into each other’s faces is considered in very poor taste, and taken as a symbol of serious future problems in the marriage!

While there was no such thing as cake in ancient Hawai`i, haupia, a coconut pudding, has been a popular treat here for over 1,000 years. Today, haupia cake is an island favorite, and very appropriate for weddings. In the most simple recipe, a coconut-flavored white cake is made, and coated with the haupia pudding, and often decorated with fresh island flowers and ferns.


Dancing for her groom.

Among other festivities, the bride will often dance a special hula for the groom. With the blending of so many cultures in the islands, most weddings today combine traditions from the various branches of the bride’s and groom’s families.

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