Maile Leaf Lei

Lei is the Hawaiian word for garland or wreath. Leis are usually made from Plumeria blossoms, Pikake blossoms, Orchid blossoms or Maile leaves. Ancient Hawaiians made leis out of bones, teeth, sticks and kukui nuts. The Kukui nut lei was only worn by Alii (royalty). In the Polynesian culture a lei is created by somebody and given to another person to honor or decorate that person, or as a sign of affection. Leis were also given as a greeting or a farewell. They were and still are given for friendship, appreciation, love, congratulations or for recognition.

According to the history of the Hawaiian lei, the ancient Hawaiian wore braided leaves, flowers, shells and feathers to adorn and beautify themselves. They made leis for each other and for their Gods as a sign of love and affection. Different flowers were worn for different reasons. The red Lehua flower (fire flower) was considered the flower of Pele’ the volcano goddess and her sister Hi iaka. They are still thrown into the volcanoes today as an offering to Pele".

During the late 1800’s when steamships brought visitors to the islands, the visitors were greeted with aloha and given a beautiful fragrant lei as a way to greet them and welcome them to the island. People began to create legends about the lei. Some say the lei was lucky. The most popular legend was when you set sail to go home, if you toss your lei overboard and it floats toward the beach, you will someday return to the island. It is said that when a steamship left the island, hundreds of leis were seen floating on the surface of the ocean.

Pikake lei


The history of the Hawaiian lei tells us that originally leis were presented to another person by bowing and slightly raising the lei above your heart and offer the lei to be taken by the other person. It was considered very bad manners to raise your hands or arms above another person’s head, so it was never put around the neck.
During World War II and the American soldiers arrival on Oahu, the custom changed and leis were placed around the neck and the recipient was given a kiss on the cheek to show affection and welcome. The Maile leaf lei was considered a casual everyday lei that was worn by any class of people. It was especially worn for the worship of the Gods of Hula.

Leis are given to each other in Hawaii for any important event in a persons life. They are given on birthdays, births, graduations, weddings, religious ceremonies, love and are even given and worn at funerals

Plumeria lei


The history of the Hawaiian lei tells us that there is also a tradition with disposing of a lei. It should never be tossed in the trash. That is very degrading and represents throwing away the love of the person that gave it to you. The lei should be returned where the flowers were gathered or returned to the earth by hanging it on a tree branch, or burying it or burning it.

Lei making has become an art. I have seen leis that look as if they must have taken 12 hours to create. They are not just strung anymore. They are woven and braided and they are very colorful and fragrant. I have added a page for anybody that would like to learn to make a lei for themselves or a loved one.

With the invention of the airplane and tourism to Oahu being in the millions, the lei has become a symbol of Hawaii worldwide. The Hawaiian Lei greeting has become a well known and very popular way of welcoming visitors to Hawaii and the tradition continues at Honolulu International Airport. Only now you have to pay for your Honolulu airport lei greeting, but it is still a nice way to start your Hawaiian Vacation. So please try to commemorate the history of the Hawaiian lei and continue with the custom when arriving at Honolulu International Airport.

Airport Lei Greeting
Kukui Nut Lei
Make Your Own Lei
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