Traditions

Haku Lei

A Hawaiian proverb states, “E lei no au i ko aloha” (“I will wear your love as a wreath”)

Ancient Hawaiians would weave flowers, feathers, ferns, seeds, nuts, wood, shells, whale teeth and other materials into lei to pay tribute to the gods and give thanks for all that was provided by the land and sea. Particular lei had ceremonial and medicinal uses. To adorn the head and shoulders with a lei (considered sacred parts of the body) was a way to bestow honor and respect to that person..

After Western contact was established in 1778 other items were introduced for lei making such as roses from the missionaries and pikake and pakalana from the Chinese, plumeria from Tahiti, the jade vine from the Phillipines and Bougainvillea from Mexico.

The ancient Hawaiian tradition of lei-giving continues to flourish. A lei is a common symbol of love, friendship, celebration, honor, or greeting. The lei is the symbol of Aloha.

Blessings

The Ti leaf is very sacred to Hawaii. Ti leaf (Cordyline fruticosa) was introduced to the islands by the Polynesians. Known to the Hawaiians as Ki, the plant was considered sacred to the god, Lono, and to the goddess of the hula, Laka.

It was used by the Kahuna (priests) in religious ceremonies and as protection to ward off evil spirits. Today it is still believed that by placing ti leaves around one’s home will cause the night marchers to avoid the area. Ti leaves are often used in religious ceremonies by Kahuna and at opening ceremonies to bless new buildings and projects.

Placing offerings at sacred sites is part of the Hawaiian culture and tradition and is an action reserved for Kahuna and trained Native spiritual leaders. It is offensive to Hawaiians when these offerings are placed out of context. Wrapping a Ti leaf around a rock and placing it as an offering is not acceptable. When visiting sacred sites, please do not disturb the landscape and treat the area with reverence. The best offering you can make is your respect and aloha.

Hawaiian Dance and Music

May Day, also known as Lei Day, celebrates the making and wearing of the flower lei. In 1929, Lei Day was officially recognized by the Queen as a holiday; however, the first celebration of this event was in the year 1927. The first celebration was held on Oahu at the Bank of Hawaii, then moved to the town hall, and finally moved to Kapi’olani Park. May Day is usually celebrated during the first week of May.

For elementary school kids in Hawaii, May Day is a day where parents come to see their children perform Hawaiian mele and songs from Polynesia, hula and traditional chants. May Day also celebrates Hawaii’s rich history, teaching kids about the royal monarchy of the past with a selection of a Royal Court to represent the islands. The royal court procession has eight princesses representing different Hawaiian islands that are accompanied by a man carrying a khili – a feathered staff used in ancient times as a symbol of royalty. Each island in Hawaii has a special flower lei and color that represents that specific island. The Lei Day princess will wear the color of the island she is representing and be draped in the proper accompanying lei. To be named May Day Queen is a great honor and arguably as big a deal in Hawaii as being named Homecoming Queen on the mainland.

Kaua’i – Color Purple – Lei made from the mokihana berry found in wild tropical rain forests on Kaua’i and the Big Island.

Niihau – Color White – Niihau’s “flower” is actually a shell called Pupu. Pupu shells have to be pierced with small holes to be strung into a lei.

Maui – Color Pink – Lei is the pink Lokelani flower. Lokelani is sweet scented and very fragile.

Oahu – Color Yellow – Lei of golden ilima flowers. The lei is strung with hundreds of flowers and resemble a golden rope.

Molokai – Color Green – Molokai is home to the Kukui Tree (candle nut). It’s white flowers, fruit, and leaves are strung as the kukui lei.

Lana’i – Color Orange – Lei of kaunaoa, a native, leafless vine with tiny white blossoms.

Kahoolawe – Color Grey – Lei of hinahina, a native, silvery heliotrope that grows on the beach.

Hawaii – Color Red – Lei of hia lehua, a native honey plant, has the beautiful red lehua blossom for its flower. The pom-pom stamens are sacred to the volcano goddess, Pele. The red hia lehua is often the first shrub that will sprout from a recent lava flow.

Luau

So, where can you eat some of that “ono” food and watch in awe at the amazing and talented performers?

If you’re staying in Poipu, there’s the Luau Havaiki Nui at the Grand Hyatt Kauai and the Auli’i Luau at the Sheraton Kauai Resort. If you decide to attend the Hyatt’s luau, you’re getting the complete package of good food, crafts, crowd participation, and of course the main show to put an exclamation point on the night. The Auli’i Luau is held in special regards as being Kauai’s only oceanfront luau. So, if the weather isn’t looking so gloomy, an oceanfront event sounds like a good deal!

Poipu is an estimated 20-minute drive to Puhi; there, you will find the Kilohana Plantation, which holds the Luau Kalamaku. You get the option to ride a train that circles the 105-acre plantation, which also has a short stop where kids get an opportunity to feed some farm animals. What truly makes this luau special is the performance value. The dances and songs are all stringed together seamlessly as the cast attempts to tell a story for their main show. If you want to travel further east or if you’re staying on the North Shore, you may be interested in the Smith’s Family Garden Luau. This luau is held by the Wailua River and just like Luau Kalamaku, you get the option for a little trip before the even starts, except the Smith’s Luau offers a tram tour right on the River. This luau is held in an open-air amphitheatre and guests experience performances from different countries, such as Tahiti, Philippines, New Zealand, and even Japan.

Brush up on your dance moves because if you get a seat up front you never know if you’ll be spontaneously called up mid-performance!

Hawaiian Customs

A Hawaiian proverb states, “E lei no au i ko aloha” (“I will wear your love as a wreath”).

Ancient Hawaiians would weave flowers, feathers, ferns, seeds, nuts, wood, shells, whale teeth and other materials into leis to pay tribute to the gods and give thanks for all that was provided by the land and sea. Particular leis had ceremonial and medicinal uses. To adorn the head and shoulders with a lei (considered sacred parts of the body) was a way to bestow honor and respect to that person.

After Western contact was established in 1778, other items were introduced for lei making such as roses from the missionaries, pikake and pakalana from the Chinese, plumeria from Tahiti, the jade vine from the Philippines and Bougainvillea from Mexico. Lei making has become an art in the Hawaiian islands, and there are many new designs and types of leis created all of the time. Lei-making contests are prevalent. Grandmothers and mothers are passing the art down to the keiki (children).

Leis have special significance for both locals and visitors and are used to mark special arrivals, departures, occasions and achievements. During graduation time, you will see locals picking flowers around town in order to make the many leis that are given out after the ceremonies.

Each Hawaiian Island has its traditional favorite lei, which is associated with her people. For example, O’ahu is known for leis made of the orange ‘ilima; Hawaii’s Big Island for red lehua; Maui for the pink lokelani; and Ni‘ihau not flower leis at all, but ones made of tiny shells.

The ancient Hawaiian tradition of lei-giving continues to flourish. A lei is a common symbol of love, friendship, celebration, honor or greeting. The lei is the symbol of Aloha.

Hawaiian Customs

Graduations in Hawaii are exciting events. There is so much pomp and circumstance and tradition. High school and college graduation ceremonies are huge, and often the graduates are given a limited number of tickets for the family to come to the ceremony while the rest of the clan waits outside to greet the graduate after the ceremony. It is not unusual for 40 or 50 people to show up, even for a high school graduation.

Part of the fun is seeing the different lei showered upon the graduates at the close of the ceremony. This is when family members and friends place flower leis around the graduates’ necks and congratulate them. Leis are commonly presented when someone is arriving or departing, and the tradition symbolizes the transition of the graduate leaving school and embracing a new stage of life. There is so much pride in the air. The leis are stunning and become more artistic each year. They can be made out of flowers, candy, yarn, ribbons or money, and there’s always the unconventional leis made out of unique items like beer cans or memorabilia. It would not be unusual for a graduate to have a thousand dollars worth of leis up to their ears, and some have haku leis adorning their head as well.

After the ceremony, it is typical to locate the graduate by searching for their sign, often a picture or banner waved high on a stick, to help direct friends and family to their party location to celebrate the special day. Graduations are a great time to celebrate with a family luau.

First Year Birthday

Our granddaughter turned one on July 1st and on the 2nd we all gathered together for her birthday party. A one year old’s birthday is a very big deal in Hawaii. When I said “we gathered together,” there were at least 100 friends and family members attending.

One-year birthdays have been celebrated for centuries in many cultures. Children often didn’t live to see their first birthday so reaching the milestone was a very big deal. In ancient Hawaii, a big luau was prepared and the whole village gathered together.

We did our best to celebrate with excellent food: local beef, pork and cabbage, lomi lomi salmon, spinach salad, barbeque chicken, mac and cheese, deviled eggs, just to name a few. There was a giant slip-and-slide, birthday cake, singing and fun in the pool. Lots of children, lots of parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents. If you ever receive an invitation, don’t miss it. It’s a wonderful tradition.

Blessings

In ancient Hawaiian culture, the gods, the aina (land), and the kanaka (people), shared a symbiotic existence. If the people took care of the land in a pono (right) manner, the gods were appeased. If the gods were happy, the people would be “blessed,” and the gods would allow the land to provide, abundant fishing and harvests. Tiki statues were carved to personify certain gods and to embody that specific god’s mana (power). Ancient Hawaiian kahunas would place tiki at sacred sites, heiaus and temples. Some were worshipped through human sacrifice and others with chants and prayers. The gods were worshipped so the people could attain protection from harm, strengthen their power in times of war, and be blessed with successful crops.

It is customary in Hawaii to ask for blessings for special people and events. Hawaiian Kahuna today are frequently asked to bless a new home, residence or business to bring harmony and balance to the property and peace and prosperity to the occupants.  Energy cannot be created or destroyed and, sometimes, negativity and imbalance remain on a property. Buildings are frequently erected on ancient burial or battle sites and the residual energies of pain and grief can cause disruption in the lives of the new occupants. Ho‘oponopono (meaning to make right, align and balance) is a process of the Hawaiian Blessing that restores peace and erases the connections of the past. All negative connections to the past are cleared creating the way for a fresh flow of positivity.

Ahupua`a

It wasn’t possible for ancient Hawaiians to own land nor did they really think about it. They actually believed that the land was for everyone like we think of air. The whole idea of land division did not even exist. Ahupuaa is an old Hawaiian term for a large subdivision of land. There were four hierarchical levels:

mokupuni (whole island)

moku (largest subdivisions of an island)

ahupuaa

ili (two or three per ahupuaa)

Each ahupuaa was ruled by an ali`i or local chief and administered by a konohiki.

The ahupuaa usually encompassed a piece of land that went from the  the top of the mountain (volcano) to the shore, which was usually bounded by a stream. Each ahupuaa included a lowland mala (cultivated area) and an upland forested region. As the native Hawaiians used the resources within their ‘ahupua’a, they practiced aloha (respect), laulima (cooperation), and malama (stewardship) which resulted in a desirable pono (balance). The Hawaiians believed the land, the sea, the clouds and all nature had a certain interconnectedness. Sustainability was maintained by the konohiki and kahuna–priests who restricted the fishing of certain species during specific seasons. They also regulated the gathering of plants. They were so ahead of their time in many ways. The Hawaiian people had more time to become one with nature and to nuture nature because they lived in a friendly weather climate and didn’t need to use their time and energy for survival of harsh weather conditions.