Meaning of the Hawaiian Lei

At Ali’i Resorts, we pride ourselves on the best-in-class Maui crafted hospitality. We believe that it’s a core part of our mission. In fact, our commitment to hospitality defines who we are and is an anchor to everything we do.

Now, this enthusiasm and dedication manifest itself in various ways all around Hawaii. One of the most popular ways that we display it is with a Lei – a colorful wreath of flowers presented as a show of friendship, love, and affection.

What are Hawaiian Lei

Lei is a garland or wreath. It’s colorful and is crafted with a series of fresh natural foliage such as flowers, leaves, vines, fern fronds, and seeds.

They are extremely popular in the Hawaiian culture. So much so that Lei has now become a strong representation of Hawaiian people all around the world.

Fun fact: The plural of lei is also lei!

Types of Hawaiian Lei

There are numerous types of Hawaiian Lei differentiated by the way they made, type of material, and Island of origin.

For example, the Purple Orchid Lei is one of the most popular in Hawaii. You’ll be greeted with them at the airports.

They are bright, beautiful, and colorful, giving you a pleasant feeling every time you wear them. Plus, Purple Orchid Lei don’t carry to strong of scent and are long lasting – making them a perfect Lei for all occasions.

Lei can also be differentiated by how they are made. Some of the ways lei are made include kui (stringing), hili or hilo (braiding or weaving), wili (twining), haku (mounting against a backing material), and kupu`u or hipu`u (tying together in a knotted pattern). The way a Lei is crafted gives it a unique characteristic (shape, color, scent) and use.

Now, each Hawaiian Island takes a different approach to the type of Lei as well. For example, Maui declared the pink Lokelani as their official flower in 1923. Since then, it has blessed the island with its sweet scent and beautiful color. It brings warmth, love, and happiness wherever it is placed.

Maui’s Official Lei Flower is a pink Lokelani

What does a Lei mean in Hawaii

Now that you understand what Lei are, it’s important to understand the real meaning behind them. Are they just a simple wreath necklace or something more? Why do us Hawaiians cherish a Lei?

The Lei is more than just an assortment of flowers weaved together in a beautiful way. They have a strong cultural significance and form the basis of Hawaiian Tradition everywhere in the world.

In Hawaii, it is a way to show love, affection, and friendship. It’s also a way to honor someone or celebrate the good days. Lei manifest the warmth associated with hospitality, the love associated with companionship, and the celebration associated with the good days. Any Hawaiian gathering is incomplete without Lei.

The Lei is also an important part of any defining moment or relationship. Whether it’s a family party or a graduation ceremony, Lei establish the spirit of aloha which gives Hawaii its cultural strength.

Today, the Lei has become a traditional symbol. It represents the good that Hawaii is. In fact, it’s what you know in Hawaii even if you are not in Hawaii. Their scent, shape, color, and variety have made them a tradition everyone cherishes.

There’s a Lei for every occasion…

The best thing about Hawaii is our spirit to celebrate life moments in a way that reminds us of our time here. In this case, a Lei plays an important role in all our occasions.

Now, just like there are different types of Lei available, there are also Lei for different occasions.

For example, we have Wedding Lei symbolizing the love two people share and their promise to share joy and happiness with each other and also with the world.

Similarly, we have Lei for Graduation, Luau Party, Anniversary, and Birthdays. We highly recommend checking out each of the linked resources to better understand the Lei and what they mean to every Hawaiian occasion.

The proper Lei etiquette

The Lei is a way to show love and warmth. Now, there are no set rules to giving or receiving a Lei, there is some basic etiquette that one should always take into consideration.

For example, you should know that Lei aren’t gender specific and can be given or be received by anyone. If you feel the love, use a Lei.

When someone gives you a Lei, you should always show respect and love by giving a light hug or kiss on the cheek. You should also wear it around your neck and never refuse it when someone offers it to you. It’s considered rude.

However, in case it’s causing irritation around your neck or if you aren’t feeling comfortable, you can wear it for a while and remove it discreetly.

Lastly, remember to say “Mahalo” when given a Lei. It’s gracious and makes the other person feel loved.

How to dispose or give your Lei in honor

If you are given a Lei that you want to dispose of or use to honor someone special, here are the ways you should consider:

  • Cut the Lei string and gently remove the flowers from the string, take them with you, and scatter them in the ocean
  • Do not throw Lei in the rubbish or trash (it’s considered disrespectful)
  • Another option to dispose of Lei is to bury them
  • If you can’t bury them or scatter Lei in the ocean, you can burn them so they return to earth.

Disposing of a Lei should always be done in the most respectful way.

Have a photo wearing Lei? Send it to us on our Facebook or Instagram and we’ll share it with our community!