Recognized as a cherished Hawaiian tradition, the adornment of a lei is known for its symbolism of “aloha” meaning love, peace, and compassion. Drawing inspiration from the art of the lei, our pattern contains a floral lei motif to showcase the beauty of the Hawaiian culture.
The tradition and culture of the lei was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by early Polynesian voyagers. Early styles combined materials Polynesian settlers brought with them such as bones, feathers, and shells, while fragrant leis were composed of flowers, vines, leaves, seeds, and nuts.
While recognized as adornments, the lei was also known to be worn for sacred ceremonial purposes, celebratory occasions, and to signify wealth and royalty. The type of lei worn was often associated with a group’s geography, religion, and tradition of the hula. Within Hawaiian custom specifically, a person’s head and shoulders were considered sacred parts of the body and to be respected by others. As a result, the placing of a lei over the head and around the shoulders can be considered a display of the bestowal of honour and respect on the individual.
Tourism and commercialism are largely credited for the development and evolution of the Hawaiian lei. Visitors to the islands during the steamship era—when crowds of tourists were greeted with leis provided by vendors at the Aloha Tower—admired the beautiful flowers that grew abundantly in the subtropical climate. Lei vendors would line the pier to welcome visitors to the islands, and it eventually became popular for departing visitors to throw their lei into the sea as the ship passed in the hopes that, like the lei, they too would return to the islands again.
Over time, modern Hawaiians developed the craft of lei making through the abundant varieties of flowers brought into Hawaii by visitors. Travellers and immigrants brought roses, violets, carnations, pansies, marigolds, jasmine, gardenias, and plumeria. With the cultivation of these foreign flowers, new floral materials were made available to Hawaiian lei makers to redesign and restructure the original Hawaiian lei. Presently, they are often given and received at everything between luaus, graduations, and weddings. They are also the highlight of Lei Day, a statewide celebration that includes lei-making contests, pageants, and the giving, receiving, and wearing of leis.
With these developments, the lei has quickly become the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide, and while its structure may seem simple, its history is as intricate as Hawaii itself.