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Origins of Lei Making
Permanent Lei
Temporary Lei

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Origins of Lei Making

The history of lei making in Hawai`i begins with the arrival of the Polynesians. Throughout the South Pacific, Polynesians honored their gods by twining greens into wreaths and adorning their own bodies with strings of flowers and vines. When they arrived in Hawai`i, in addition to the useful plants they brought for food, medicine and building, they also brought ginger (`awapuhi), a fragrant flower used for decoration and adornment.

During the settlement period - roughly 750 AD through the 1300s - lei throughout Polynesia were very similar. Types included temporary fragrant lei such as maile and hala as well as non-perishable lei like lei niho palaoa (whale or walrus bone), lei pupu (shell) and lei hulu manu (feather). After long ocean voyages ceased and Hawaiians entered a period of cultural isolation (1300s-1778), they developed a richer variety of lei than anywhere else in Polynesia. In a lifestyle that fused ritual and nature with every aspect of daily life, lei were a ubiquitous ornament worn during any type of work activity, celebration or rite, by maka`ainana (commoners) as well as ali`i (chiefs).

 Sites for further information

"Beyond Adornment" The meanings of different lei (Aloha Airlines)

"Na Lei o Hawai`i: The Flower Garlands of Hawai`i" (Kaahele Hawaii)

"An Oral History of Hawaii's Lei Sellers" (Center for Oral History, Hawaii)

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