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The Hawaiian Lei
Hawaii Lei
written by Rodrigo Diniz

on October 22, 2022

For you to understand better we will explain to you where it all started. The custom of ‘lei’ was on the first trips made by navigators who made the unforgettable trip between Tahiti and Hawaii sailing in the largest ocean in the world, following only the stars and traveling in sailing canoes.

It was from there that the tradition of ‘lei’ in Hawaii began and was born and flourished throughout Polynesia.

Then they started to build Laws, of flowers, leaves, bark, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bones and teeth of various animals.


hawaiian leis
Local vendors of Leis in 1915 - unknown photographer


At first it was just used to beautify itself in the Hawaiian tradition, and then, to differentiate themselves from each other. The Maile law was perhaps the most significant of all.

Among other sacred uses, it was used to signify a peace agreement between chiefs of choice. In a Heiau (temple), the chiefs symbolically intertwined Maile with a green vine, and their conclusion, officially the peace between the two groups was agreed.


hawaii leisBut make no mistake, however, there are some "unspoken rules" generally, which you should know when receiving a Lei for the first time. The lei should be a welcome celebration of the affection of one person for another, an important indication that you are most welcome. Therefore, you must always accept a lei, never refuse, it would be extremely offensive to the person who gave you the Lei. Remember that the Lei is not a necklace but an ornament so the correct way to use a lei is to roll it gently over your shoulders, swinging both in front and in the back. It is considered rude to remove it from the neck in the presence of the person who applied it, and if necessary, remove it discreetly.

Is it pronounced Lei or Leis?

The Hawaiian language has no singular and plural. So, one or many ornaments you will just say "lei", even if it causes a little discomfort for not pronouncing the plural.

Lei on other occasions:
  • How the lei means a gift is a regular part of any special occasion, such as: birthdays, weddings, and graduations.
  • It is not uncommon for graduate senior students to have a whole bunch of leis around their neck to the point they can no longer see anything else in front of them!
  • At weddings, it is a very special and indispensable item for the couple.


hawaiian lei

Hawaiian Flowers

Hawaiian Leis from Hawaii