What is a Lei & Hawaiian Symbolism

A Hawaiian lei is a traditional garland or wreath that is often made from flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, or feathers. The most recognized type of lei is the flower lei, which is typically constructed from flowers like plumerias, orchids, tuberose, ginger flowers, or ti leaves.

Giving a lei is a great way to show friendship, love or to celebrate or honor someone. It’s also a useful gift for greeting someone warmly. It symbolizes the spirit behind the aloha and the way this greeting draws you in and makes you welcome. When you walk around any island of Hawaii, you see just how many leis are used by those who live there. Leis are common at graduations and for celebrations and parties. School dances and weddings are the perfect times for leis, and leis are even used in the office to honor someone and celebrate achievements.

In the tropical paradise of Hawaii, the colors of the flowers and the intoxicating scent of the petals have made giving leis a beloved tradition that has endured. For Hawaiians, any occasion is one that can be made more special by the giving of a lei.  Hawaiian Leis are irresistible, and they have become a cherished symbol of the islands and their people. According to legend, a visitor leaving the islands who tosses their lei into the water and has it float on the current to the shore will someday come back to Hawaii. To experience the beloved custom, as well as the colors and scents of the lei, you can discover the spirit of aloha through our fresh, expertly made Hawaiian leis.

What Is The Meaning Or Symbolism Of A Lei?

Leis are deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture and are a visible and fragrant symbol of the Aloha spirit, representing the warmth, welcome, and hospitality of the Hawaiian people.

In the days before the arrival of Captain James Cook, lei were used in ceremonies and worn like jewelry for personal adornment and as offerings to gods. Each material selected for crafting a lei carries its own unique symbolism, often accompanied by specific chants, myths, and customs related to its collection, creation, presentation, and use. For instance, the vibrant yellow and red feathers of the Hawaiian honeycreepers were exclusively used for the leis of ali’i, or royalty. Different types of lei would represent their rank.

Plants from the forest such as maile, palapalai, lapalapa, and the closely related ‘ōlapa, which also means “dancer,” held connections to Laka, the goddess of the forest and hula. These plants were traditionally used to decorate the kuahu, or altar, in hula schools known as hula hālau, and were also worn by the hula dancers themselves.

The lehua blossom, prevalent across the islands and especially abundant on the volcanic slopes of the island of Hawai’i, became emblematic of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, and her beloved sister, Hi’iaka.

Lei crafted from the delicate ‘ilima flower, a plant found along arid coastlines that necessitates over five hundred blossoms for a single lei, were considered rare and highly valued.

Today, a lei is a symbol of Hawaiian culture, of warmth, welcome, love, and appreciation.