What Are Some Hawaiian Lei Meanings?


Quick Answer

Hawaiian leis generally signify respect and honor, but certain plants convey additional meanings, such as maile leis for peace or bridegrooms, pikake leis for brides, and lehua leis for strength. Hala leis are sometimes considered bad luck.

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Full Answer

The most familiar use of leis is for greeting travelers to the islands. This tradition was popularized in the 1800s, and the custom of greeting a traveler with a kiss came into use during World War II. Another modern tradition says that if a lei is thrown overboard as a traveler leaves by boat, the traveler someday returns to Hawaii if the lei floats back to land.

Leis of various materials also have connections with the Hawaiian gods. The goddess Pele fell in love with a man named Ohia, who refused her and was turned into the ohia tree. His girlfriend, Lehua, was turned into the lehua flowers that grow on the tree. Those lehua flowers are still associated with Pele, and leis made from them are still offered to the goddess.

Ancient Hawaiians made leis from a variety of plants, shells, feathers and bones for different occasions. The ali'i (royalty) were the only people permitted to wear leis made from whale teeth. Maile leis were used as peace offerings during wartime.

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