Hawaiian Clothing

Puka Shell Leis

Puka shells are found on some beaches in Hawaii. They are beach-worn pieces of various cone snail shells. Puka shell necklaces became a fad in surf culture in the 1980’s.

Puka is the Hawaiian word for “hole” and refers to the naturally occuring hole in the middle of these rounded shell fragments. In Ancient Hawaiian days, there were no drills or machines to help in making jewelry. Puka shells were traditionally used because the shell is naturally polished by the ocean and the hole which the necklace is strung by, is also naturally formed.

Numerous inexpensive imitations are now widely sold however, the majority of which are not made from cone shells but from other shells, clam shells, Heishi or even from plastic. Real Puka shells have much more value because of how Puka shell holes are naturally formed and polished by the ocean as opposed to the man-cut and drilled imitation shells. It can take weeks of beachcombing to collect, sort by size, and string a length of real Puka shells long enough to make a bracelet or a necklace. Thus, true, traditional Puka Shell necklaces are hard to find nowadays and will be far more costly than the fake necklaces.

Puka jewelry first became popular in Hawaii, though many species of cone snails are found in tropical oceans worldwide. In Hawaii, the wearing of puka shells was traditionally thought to ensure a peaceful and safe voyage, especially for sailors on a long journey, so puka shell necklaces were worn by those who had to travel at sea.

Lauhala Weaving

In Hawaii, Hala (Pandanus tectorius) grows in the coastal lowlands, often near the edge of the ocean. It is also amusingly referred to as the Tourist Pineapple or Pineapple Tree as tourists often mistake the fruit heads for pineapples!

Hala, although it already existed in Ancient Hawaii, is considered a canoe plant as the ancient Polynesians introduced different cultivated varieties of Hala to the islands. The plants were used for food and medicinal purposes, leis, thatching and weaving. The leaves (lau) were woven or plaited into mats, pillows, sails, baskets, hats, sandals, and fans. The favored lauhala for weaving was called “lauhala kilipaki”.

The arrival of western culture and an increase in trade with the outside world in the 19th Century along with the availability of cotton cloth, leather goods and man-made fibers caused the decline of weaving. In the 1930s, weaving was important for many Big Island families who made hats and coffee-picking baskets to trade for food at plantation stores.

The legacy of lauhala is woven through many generations of Hawaiians and, luckily, the ancient art of weaving is still appreciated to this day. Craft markets feature lauhala gift items including a variety of hats, baskets and intricately woven bracelets. Lauhala mats are commonly used in the home for flooring and paneling, to enhance empty walls and roofs and for tropical landscape products and tiki hut thatching.

Niihau Shell Leis

A Niihau Shell lei is an intricate lei made from the tiny shells which populate the beaches of Niihau Island.  Legally, Ni’ihau shells is a term that refers only to shells actually gathered on the shores of the Forbidden Island.  However, the term generally refers to three different shells that are commonly used to make Ni’ihau shell lei:  kahelelani, momi, and liki, as well as a fourth one, kmoa, which is frequently used to add contrasting color.

A simple single-strand lei may be available for as little as $100 and a high-quality multi-strand lei made with shells of rare colors may go for as much as $30,000 or even higher. Creating these leis has developed into a fine folk art that is unequalled anywhere in the world.

“What are flip-flops? I only know slippahs”

When you come to Hawaii you’ll often hear the term, “slippahs,” or without the pidgin accent, it’s pronounced, “slippers.”  They’re flip-flops, just with a different name. In fact, this simplistic footwear is worn around the world and has grown to have specific names in their respective countries. For example, according to wondoropolis.org, they’re called “jandals” in New Zealand and “plakkies” in South Africa. Guess what they call them in Australia and Canada; they’re called, “thongs.”

“Thongs?!” Probably what you were just thinking. See, you learned something new. Just as these countries have come to identify it in their own unique way, “slippahs” is just one of those things that fall under the “only in Hawaii” category, just below spam.

Slippers are a very laid back type of footwear. It’s best for the beach and perfect for the hot and humid island weather. The convenience of slippers are what makes them so popular, 2 seconds to put on and you’re ready to go. Can you imagine going on a fancy date or special party with slippers on? As a local and speaking from what I see frequently, it’s completely normal to wear a nice polo shirt, your most expensive pair of jeans, and some branded slippers to finish the outfit. Seriously, when you’re living on an island with red dirt everywhere you tend to get a little picky when to wear those favorite pair of shoes of yours.

Do you take off your footwear every time you enter the house? If you’re visiting family or friends on the island, you’ll understand; a quick glance a few inches from the front door and you’ll see a cluster of slippers. It’s a respectful gesture and, of course, it’s to keep the house clean. Funny thing about this is that it’s very possible and easy to leave the house with different slippers than what you arrived with. I admit that a few years back I went home with someone else’s slippers after a family party because it turns into a pile that you don’t feel like sorting through; I still have no idea who they belonged to.

If you’re looking for an alternative to strapped sandals and Crocs footwear, I highly suggest purchasing some quality slippers. You can always find some good brands wherever they sell beach attire and surf gear. Here are a couple shops you should check out:

-Déjà Vu Surf at the Kukui Grove Center

-Poipu Surf and Quicksilver at the Kukuiula Shopping Center

-Hanalei Surf Backdoor at Ching Young Village

Hawaiian Customs

The entry form states that the lei must be 24 inches in length, ends untied, and made to adorn the hat of a Paniolo. The lei may be entered in the “beautiful” category, comprised of only fresh all-natural materials such as flowers, seeds and feathers, or in the “unique” category in which any materials may be used!

What is a “Paniolo” you may ask? I found the perfect answer (and amazing photography) from local Maui professional camera artist Randy Jay Braun:

“The story begins in 1795, when the British Sea Captain, George Vancouver, gifted a few head of Mexican Longhorn cattle to King Kamehameha, as an offering of friendship. The King protected them, allowing them to multiply and roam the islands untouched for 40 years. Eventually, the herd grew to thousands, creating a need for instruction in handling and managing the descendants of those first few cattle. While the first horse was introduced to the islands in 1803, it was not until some 30 years later that expert cattle handlers – the Spanish-Mexican “vaqueros” were brought to Hawaii to teach the Hawaiians. In fact, the word “paniolo” evolved from the word “Espanol” (Spanish) that was used in the early years in referring to the vaqueros. Today, “paniolo” is a term used with well-earned respect and admiration in describing the Hawaiian, or Hawaii-born, cowboy working on island ranches. Also, it’s a general term used for the rural, ranch-related lifestyle in the islands. Active cattle ranches can be found on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai. Hawaii produces over $18 million worth of beef every year. The “Big Island” of Hawaii has one of the largest ranches in the world, Parker Ranch.

To discover more about the tradition of Hawaiian feather lei making there is a wonderful article in the Waimea Town Gazette (i.e. Waimea on the Big Island) from 1997 by Patti Cook titled “Tsugi Kaiama Passing on the Art of Lei Hula Papa.”