Informant: “So apparently, everywhere else besides Hawaii does not gives leis during graduation or…like birthdays. So like basically, a lei is like…a circle of love that you can put around someone’s neck…hahahahaha…hahahaha…hahahahaha…and typically, they’re made out of flowers, like they get quite elaborate. There are different leis for males and females, and like the males have like, lil like kukui nuts or like maile leaves. Which are just…like, green…hahahaha…leaves…hahahahahahahahahaha. I’m the worst person ever to talk about this stuff! Anyway, and yeah. And women’s are usually much more colorful, and they come with like orchid flowers, like all these fancy flowers. And they have like Hawaiian, traditional Hawaiian flowers, that are native only to Hawaii. And you can give them during graduations or birthdays, and like, the most popular lei-giving season is during May? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha…hahahahahaha!”
Me: “What’s so funny about May?”
Informant: “I don’t know! It’s just like, during May? Like ok? Hahahaha. Ok, then during May, there’s like…everyone graduates! So that’s why it’s the most popular season for lei-giving, makers, and like everyone gives each other leis. Like all graduates, all the family members, all the friends. So like we always end up with like ARMFULS, and like leis, and like they’ll go from our neck all the way up to the top of our heads. Like covering our eyes, can’t see anything! Cuz there’s so many leis. So much love. Oh, and nowadays, besides just flower leis, there are candy leis…where people like, basically tie candy together. And then there are finger leis! Which are really easy to make out of yarn. Yup. Oh! And then a lot of people make these really fancy-ass crochet leis. Yeah…they’re really nice. And they’ll make em all in school colors, good times. Oh wait wait wait! Are you still going?”
Me: “Yeah, still going.”
Informant: “Ok, there are also haku leis. Which are, like, smaller more dense versions of a lei. But it’s like for your head. And you put it on your haku, which is your head. And they’re your…and there’s like special versions made by women who are very very…what’s it called? Skilled! At the craft of making haku leis and they’re quite hard. You have to do like flower arrangements, you gotta like weave them in together. And it’s quite, quite arduous work. But it looks very beautiful in the end, and you can always let them dry out, you can keep them. Dried haku leis, or dried leis, and they’re very nice.”
My informant talks about leis, which are essentially garlands that serve as a symbol of love or affection. As she explained, there are many different types of leis, and varying levels of lei construction in terms of difficulty. She does not seem to privilege one form above the other, although she did point out that the special haku leis are usually only made by women who are skilled in that craft. There are also other types of leis which are not covered in this performance, as well as special rituals associated with lei-giving. As she notes, it is typical to keep leis once they have dried out, since these are an expression of love and not to be thrown away. This folk object is particularly interesting because it has a definite presence in the Hawaiian tourist industry today. Many visitors are given (or sold) leis at Hawaiian airports, usually made of brightly colored flowers or plastic flowers. Leis have become a sort of symbol many people associate with Hawaii, and yet they are usually unaware of the full context of this folk object.