On May 4, 2019, Kamakaonaona Pomroy Maly (member of a family of renowned wili lei makers), and Kepa Maly, met with 14 community members to share a lei making and history workshop. The workshop was presented as a fundraiser to support the Hoakalei Cultural Foundation Scholarship Program. The event was a great success and the happy lei makers fashioned their own creations and got ideas on planting home lei gardens to keep up the practice. Proud of them all! Ho’omaika’i! If you are interested in participating next year, we'll be planning another workshop the first weekend of May 2020.
Participants also recieved a handout – "Lei aku, lei mai, he lei aloha (Give a lei, receive a lei, a lei of love)" with background on the hsitory of Hawaiian lei, and the kinds of materials used in making lei. Among the notes were the following paraagrpahs.
Ka Hana Lei — The art and customs of making, wearing, and giving of lei are ancient cultural practices of Hawaiians and their Polynesian ancestors. To make lei, Hawaiians of old gathered flowers, leaves, fruits, seeds, shells, bone and teeth from the forests, the seashore and various animals. Two primary types of lei were made—those which lasted many years—like the lei niho palaoa or whales tooth pendant strung on braided strands of human hair—and those made of all manner of greenery and flowers—which perished after a short time.
Perishable lei were made from fresh flowers, leaves, fruits, and limu or seaweed. Ancient Hawaiians didn’t have a large variety of flowers with which to make lei. Among the blossoms used in traditional lei were the nanu or nā‘ū (an endemic gardenia), lehua, ‘a'ali‘i, kauna‘oa, mānewanewa, māmane, ‘ilima, kukui, nuku‘i‘iwi, ‘ōhai, ‘ōhelo, and hinahina. Many of the “perishable” lei were made from leaves and fruits which had a fragrant scent or were beautiful in color or shape. Among these types of material are the maile, liko lehua, mokihana, palapalai, pala‘ā, kukui nuts, hala (pandanus fruit), and lā‘ī (ti-leaf).
Among the most significant perishable lei—those associated with the gods and goddesses of old—are the lā‘ī, maile, ‘ōlapa, ‘ie‘ie, hala, lehua, and various ferns. Maile is famed in mele (chants) and hula (dances), and as a body form of a goddess of hula, it was prized for its beautiful fragrance. For spiritual well-being, the most powerful lei, was also the simplest, it is the lei lā‘ī, made only of green ti-leaf with leaves stripped and knotted together. The leaves were believed to have the power to ward off evil or forgive one of infractions of kapu.
Lei were used to decorate the altars of hālau hula (hula schools), and an image of Laka was draped with lei made of maile, palapalai, 'ie'ie, and lehua. Students of the hula wore leis to adorn their heads, necks, wrists, and ankles. They did not wear them to overwhelm the body, but to enhance the movements of the body during the dance. Importantly, the natural plant materials also represented the physical body-forms of the creative forces of nature. So, wearing a lei made of one of these plants would impart the mana (spiritual power and essence) of a given deity to the wearer. Other than for ceremonial needs, lei were made spontaneously. They were given to loved ones, relatives, sweethearts, and friends, and most importantly, they were given with aloha.
Today, lei are made and given with the same spirit, but the occasions have broadened. Likewise, the materials used in making lei have broadened. Lei are made of paper, fabric, plastic, food, packaged goods and more. But the ancient lei of Hawai‘i are still, by far, the most cherished leis.