Hawaiian Leis

Giving of Leis

My informant told me of a common custom in Hawaii, the giving of leis as a positive gesture at events. The type of events can range from funerals to birthdays to welcoming tourists to the islands. Whether comforting or welcoming the tradition is embraced by all on the islands not only the native Hawaiians. The leis are supposed to represent a hug that encircles you all day long. Traditionally they are sewn by hand and made of flowers with the better smelling flowers costing more, but as time passes more and more types of leis become acceptable. There are candy leis, ribbon leis, and money leis, that people give out at various occasions. These types of leis are prominent at graduations as people have many to give out and often do not want to spend as much money on a fancier flower lei that won’t last as long as a ribbon one or isn’t as fun as a candy lei. Flower leis are still the most common type though as they are the most meaningful. These are also given to tourists entering the state in order to make a good first impression and it wouldn’t be acceptable for the state to welcome visitors with candy leis.

The giving of leis used to be an exclusively native Hawaiian activity but as immigrants to the islands stayed there longer it become part of a new island culture. Leis are given out in Hawaii as much as before but as the culture evolved the types of leis changed as well showing that while the tie to the past is there so is the new. The leis are physical symbols of positive emotion that are physical remembers one can take with them. The various different materials can often give different meaning to the giving of the lei that wouldn’t necessarily exist if flowers were the only medium. This shows that the evolution of the leis also expands what can be done with them.