by Veronica S.
'I got leid in Hawaii', proclaims a favorite bumper
sticker that many visitors take back to the mainland.
What is it about those fragrant flower garlands and
the sensual image invoked by the words lei and Hawaii?
From the earliest times, men and women worldwide have
adorned themselves with leis. Perhaps what has made
Hawaii's leis so unique in history, is the fact that
its rich culture was isolated so many centuries from
other civilizations. The tropics offered an abundance
of blossoms, beads, and leaves.
Hawaii leis mark any important event in a person's
life. There are leis of grief, and leis of love, leis
of love-making, leis of marriage, of dying, and of birthing.
There are leis for political, community, social, personal,
farming, and religious ceremony.
In old Hawaii, all those activities overlapped. The
farmer blessing the new crop, the fisherman praying
for safety, and the chief chanting in the heiau, all
belonged to a people united by a deep-rooted belief
in their gods. Each Hawaiian flower and leaf has a specific
symbolic meaning, with its own legends and oral history.
The island of Hawaii is the island of the lehua flower,
ohia lehua, the tragic fire flower of the sisters Pele
and Hi'iaka. The emotional legend of Hi'iaka and her
red-tufted fragrant lehua is chanted in the greatest
Hawaiian meles. Even today, one shouldn't pick the lehua
flower on the way to the volcano, Pele's home.
Another lei, frequently used, is the maile leaf lei.
The lei maile was the lei of all people, all classes,
and all occasions, but most especially, it was associated
with the worship of the gods of hula. Maile, sweetly
perfumed, has many siblings, with different shaped leaves
and traditions. In Hawaii legend there once was a greedy
maile, a brittle maile, a luxuriant maile, and a sweetly
scented maile. They were abandoned in the forest by
their angry demi-god brother, because they weren't able
to help him in his conquest of a beautiful chiefess.
Most visitors are only aware of the plumeria lei, widely
available at airports and hotels. The plumeria is a
relative newcomer in the old tradition. Harder to find
is the lei pikake with its unequaled perfume, or the
lei of the magnificent red or turquoise jade vine.
The ancient Hawaiians excelled in the creation of permanent
leis, construed of feathers, ivory, beads, and even
teeth. Often, these leis were an emblem of ali'i.
Leis in Hawaii are for men, women, and children, of
all ages and ranks. They tell the story of the Hawaiian
people, their mythology, their legends, their history,
and their culture. It's good to get leid in Hawaii.
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