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Nā Lei o Hawai`i
Leilehua's lei-making video is now in production!
chants * music * stories
Click to learn more


      Kumu Leilehua Yuen learned lei making from her grandmother, Thelma Yuen, during summers and weekends spent at Kehena in Puna on ka Moku Hawai`i. See the Classes page for information about instruction in lei making and other Hawaiian crafts.


     Lei are an instantly recognizable symbol of Hawai`i. The wreaths of flowers and foliage worn by both men and women add fragrance and beauty to island life.

     But lei are more than flowers sewn on a strand. There are lei of seeds, shells, feathers, and even words. A special song composed for a loved one can be a lei. But all of them are a tangible expression of aloha, and as such are given to show love, joy, or sympathy, and as greetings and farewells.

     In fact, poetically, a child is called a lei, because the child is the weaving together of the love of his or her parents and ancestors.

     In modern times, a lei is often given with a kiss. The story goes: During World War II, a hula dancer at one of the USO clubs was dared by her girlfriends to kiss a handsome young officer. She met the challenge by going up to him and giving him her lei, saying, "It is our custom to give a kiss with a lei." Thus a new "ancient" custom was born.

     In ancient times, however, a lei was never placed over a person's head and given with a kiss - pleasant as that modern tradition is. To "na po`e kahiko", the people of olden times, the head was sacred. People did not put their hands or arms above another's head. A lei was carefully wrapped in a special container, often made of fresh ti leaves, and handed to the recipient. If the lei was for a very high ranking ali`i, then the lei would be handed to a retainer to give the ali`i.

     Robert Elwes, an artist who visited the Hawaiian islands in 1849, wrote that Hawaiian women "delight in flowers, and wear wreaths on their heads in the most beautiful way."  

Na Lei o Hawai`i Wall Calendar
Enjoy the beauty of the lei in our special greeting cards at Hawaiian Cards
Na Lei O Hawai`i

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                  Index to Lei Pages

Lei Hulu
Feather Lei
cards and gifts


Island Lei
Lei Day
Lei Songs
Making Lei
Types of Lei
     When, people often wonder, is it appropriate to wear a lei? Why, any time at all! A lei is always an appropriate gift, though the symbolism of some specific lei make them more appropriate at some times than others. At left, my husband and I wear lei given to us at the announcement of our engagement. At right, our friend Kahalelaukoa wears lei given to her at a cultural presentation she conducted.

     We wear lei on our heads, on our hats, and around our necks. We give and wear lei at birthday parties, graduations, and weddings. We take them as hostess gifts, and to give to the departed at funerals.  We wear lei when performing hula, and we give lei to esteemed elders.




  We are careful as to what kind of lei we wear and give. Hala is not appropriate for someone running for political office. But it is appreciated at a funeral, or as a gift to someone from Puna. La`i, ti leaf, is always appropriate, as is maile.

     My grandparents celebrated the arrival of their new car with lei for all - even the car! At right, a patriarch of our `ohana wears the lei la`i.




  For More on Lei Read These Excellent Books

* Ka Lei, The Lei of Hawai`i; Marie McDonald; Press Pacifica
* Na Lei Makamae, the Treasured Lei
; Marie McDonald; University of Hawai`i Press
* Plants in Hawaiian Culture; Beatrice Krauss; University of Hawai`i Press
* Plants in Medicine; Beatrice Krauss; University of Hawai`i Press
* Arts and Crafts of Hawai`i, Volume XII, Ornaments; Peter Buck; Bishop Museum
* Feather Lei as an Art, Mary Kekuewa and Paulette Kahalepuna; Na Lima Mili Hulu No`eau




                    Other Lei Links

    Center for Oral History

Coffee Times

Hawai`i Executive Planners


History of the Hawaiian Lei Forum

Honolulu Parks and Recreation

Lei Day

"Lost Art of Lei Making"


Wikipedia Article on Lei