Lei are a beautiful souvenir and symbol of Hawaiian hospitality. Other cultures also weave floral necklaces, but Hawaiians have become best known for these sweet-smelling garlands. Lei come in a variety of colors, flower combinations and textures, each with its own meaning and tradition. While the most tourist lei generally contain flowers that evoke the scent and warmth of the islands, there are lei which feature an array of leaves as either part of the design or as the entire garland.
Lei are simply any ornamental necklace, garland or wreath that is worn. They can be made out of any natural material and contemporary materials as well. Lei have been created since the Neolithic period when shells, feathers, rocks and other material were strung together and worn. In Hawaii, they were first introduced by the Polynesians and embraced as a means of body decoration.The lei represents affection and harmony and it is rude to refuse to accept one. Lei also represent peace and the maile leaf lei was used in temples in a ceremony that cemented tribal bonds.The most well-known type of lei is the floral, but traditional leaf lei are also common.
A sacred and traditional leaf lei, the maile lei is made from the maile vine. Maile lei are woven loosely and in the open-loop style. The shiny, fragrant leaf dries and creates a long-lasting lei that can be worn repeatedly, if cared for. The ti leaf is a broad, flat leaf that can either be deep green or red. The lei made from ti leaf are classified as close loop or open loop. The leaf has a large vein in the center that must be removed before it can be braided. The process is simple, dividing the leaf into two sections and pulling the vein out. Mock orange leaves in lei are not as popular in a traditional sense and are often combined with small flowers or berries. The leaves are lightly scented and do not last as long as the other leaf lei.The silk fern head lei is a lei crown made of green silk ferns. The head lei is known as haku.
The ti leaf symbolizes protection and good luck and is not only used in various constructions but is also eaten and can be used to wrap food for steaming. It is a traditional lei and is suitable for those with sensitive noses, as it has little odor. The maile lei symbolizes the goddess of Hula, Laka, so hula dancers are often seen wearing it around their necks. In wedding ceremonies the groom wears a maile lei to signify his "king for the day" status. The mock orange lei is found in weddings and the small leaves are often combined with rose petals. The fern lei can be seen on the heads of hula dancers and can also be anklets or bracelets. The silk fern lei is often worn at luaus and other festive occasions.
Many lei can last for days or even weeks if kept misted and carefully laid out or hung up to avoid bruising. Store in the refrigerator or other cool place when not being worn. The maile lei can be dried and worn in this state but the fresh leaves are one of the longest-lasting lei materials. The ti leaf lei can also be dried and it is sturdy in this state. Fern leaf lei do not last as long as most floral lei. The ferns bruise and break with even slight movement. Mock orange leaves can be dried but because they are usually combined with rose petals or other materials, the overall lei will not be preserved.
It is fairly simple to make a lei. The most intensive is probably the ti leaf lei, as you have to prepare the leaves before weaving. All you need for a lei is the leaves and the knowledge on how to tie a square knot. Two leaves are tied together with the knot and then you twist the leaves around each other and end with a square knot. You can add more leaves for a longer lei, and there are special knots that will add to the pattern. For smaller leaves, like the mock orange, you need a string and special lei needle. The leaves are then threaded onto the string and knots are used at the beginning and end.