Duke statue with beautiful Leis
October 30, 2022
| by
Jenny Espinosa

History of the Hawaiian Lei

One of the most iconic images visitors have about visiting the Hawaiian Islands is to receive a beautiful floral Lei upon their arrival at the airport…

We’ve all seen the movies…a couple arrives at an airport in Hawaii and a beautiful Hawaiian lady greets them with a smile, an ‘Aloha, welcome to Hawaii,’ and places a colorful Lei around their neck. This is the image many first time visitors to Hawaii have in their minds and while you can hire a ‘Lei Greeting’ service at some Hawaii airports, it is not a free gesture given to all visitors.

In this latest Oahu Travel Guide article, History of the Hawaiian Lei, we’ll share the facts and history about the Hawaiian Lei.

History of the Hawaiian Lei
If you’ve visited Hawaii, you have seen the beautiful, fragrant Lei’s being sold and worn by visitors and locals alike. But where did the Lei come from and what is the significance of the Lei? The Lei originated with Polynesian visitors who arrived from Tahiti in the early years.

Contrary to popular belief, a Lei is not always made with beautiful, colorful flowers. Some Leis are made with Feathers, Nuts, Seashells, Leaves, and of course fragrant Flowers. The Leis were worn in the early times to distinguish themselves from others in day-to-day life and at gatherings.

In some cases, the Lei’s, in particular the Maile Leis were used by Chief’s to symbolize an understanding of peace between groups simply by intertwining the Lei’s.

Wedding Lei’s
If you plan to have a Hawaiian Wedding, the Lei also has a significance in the ceremony. A husband and wife can exchange a colorful Lei to signify their union. Also, the two families can exchange a flower or plant style Lei to represent the joining of the two families. In addition to the traditional Hawaiian Lei, some brides choose to wear a Haku Lei on their neck or on top of their heads. The groom often would wear a Maile Lei often in a color and style to match his new bride.

Rules of the Lei
There really are no steadfast rules for Lei’s but there are a few traditions that many Hawaiians like to see respected. Leis are a big part of most celebrations in Hawaii, including Birthdays, Weddings and special occasions. As for ‘following the rules of the Lei’ there aren’t many. For example, once you have received a Lei placed around your next, it is custom to keep wearing it in the presence of the presenter.

In the early days of the arrivals of tourists to the Hawaiian Islands and for a short period of time, it was tradition to give a beautiful Lei to the arriving tourists. It was also tradition that the visitors who departed via Cruise Ship would toss their Leis into the ocean as a ‘wish’ to return to Hawaii again one day.

Now, in present day visitors who arrive at the various airports in Hawaii can order a Lei Greeting service to greet them at the airport with a beautiful Lei and an ‘Aloha.’ As an alternative, visitors can also simply stop by one of the many Lei kiosks or shops located at the airport and chose their own Lei color and style.

During your visit
Leis are not only meant to be worn upon your arrival or departure from Hawaii. Many visitors choose to buy and wear a beautiful, floral Lei during their trip to wear on an excursion, to a dinner, on a dinner cruise or to a Lua. The best time to wear a Lei is anytime you want to!

In this latest Oahu Travel Guide article: History of the Hawaiian Lei you have learned to brief history of the Hawaiian Lei but the best way to appreciate a Hawaiian Lei is to wear one for yourself…

Visit our Oahu Travel Guide for more recommendations for all there is to do, see and experience when visiting Oahu.

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