Time to Get Festive: A Brief History of the Hawaiian Luau
Time to Get Festive: A Brief History of the Hawaiian Luau
Sometimes, you just gotta party. And there may be no better place to do that than at a Hawaiian luau. The luau is one of the most popular must-dos on the average Hawaii tourist’s wishlist. But the luau is more than just a tourist attraction. It’s also part of Hawaii’s rich indigenous cultural history, dating back hundreds of years. Recognizing the cultural history of a tradition is vital to respect it, so it pays to learn a little something before you attend a luau.
So let’s get festive and take a brief look at the history of the Hawaiian luau.
What Is a Luau?
In the modern sense, a luau is a pretty informal thing. It’s a broad term encompassing outdoor parties with lots of food and entertainment, and usually a large number of people. Combine a large backyard BBQ with a more traditional feast, and you’re somewhere close to the idea of the luau.
Hawaiians will celebrate a wide range of occasions with a luau, from birthdays and graduations to weddings. A luau is an extension of the close-knit, warm, and friendly islander lifestyle that forms the basis of Hawaiian culture.
As tourists come to Hawaii seeking to immerse themselves in the culture, the luau has expanded to an all-purpose party — no occasion needed.
All in the Past
Like the Spanish siesta, we think of the luau is an indelible part of Hawaiian culture — an idea we can’t fully translate into English terms. But it all had to start somewhere.
The exact origins of luau are almost certainly lost in the mists of time. Social rituals most often grow out of small conventions that snowball over time to become an established part of a country’s culture.
The luau is doubtless inextricable from Hawaii’s islander culture. Island peoples typically form close-knit communities with a strong sense of identity. At the same time, they have access to the rich bounty of the ocean and their tropical climate. Put the two together, and the origins of the luau seem obvious.
One of the earliest traceable forms of the luau is the aha’aina. Aha’aina is still the word many modern Hawaiians use to refer the luau, but it originally offered to the royal and religious version of the tradition.
Once upon a time, the aha’aina was a great gathering to celebrate momentous events like milestones in life or victory in battle. They were also a way for chiefs to display and celebrate their status.
These early ancestors of the luau had some key differences from its modern form. For starters, men and women weren’t allowed to eat together. Women were also forbidden from eating certain foods, such as bananas and pork. Not quite the inclusive spirit made famous by the modern luau!
Hawaii underwent a wide range of changes after early contact with European explorers. European weaponry and support led to the forging of a unified Kingdom of Hawaii under the Kamehameha dynasty.
As European ideas began to arrive in Hawaii, explorers also took stories about Hawaii back to their homelands. As with many of the countries “discovered” by European explorers, Hawaii became an exotic and exciting place to the people back home.
This interest in Hawaii as a destination would eventually give rise to modern tourists, who would have their own impact on the luau.
Breaking Down Barriers
King Kamehameha II, the second king of the Kingdom of Hawaii (and nothing to do with Son Goku at all) was a game-changer for the luau and beyond.
After King Kamehameha I died, one of his wives, Ka’ahumanu, used her influence with Kamehameha II to break down the kapu (a kind of religious and social set of taboos) in a quest to put Hawaii’s ancient religion behind them.
One of these taboos included the separation of men and women at mealtimes.
The result was a recognizably modern shift in Hawaii’s culture. With that, the modern version of the luau finally became a reality.
Kamehameha II’s luaus were the stuff of legend. The king loved a good party and the new, inclusive nature of the luau allowed them to build a new sense of unified cultural identity.
As knowledge of Hawaii spread throughout the world, many foreigners came to see the luau in action, and many more heard about it back home. With the world now opened up by explorers, Hawaii began to see their modern evolution: the tourist.
Like many cultural traditions around the world, luau has taken on a second life in the wake of pop-cultural interest. The end result is half traditional, half modern.
With the evolution of modern global culture, Hawaii has become a popular tourist stop. The islands have featured in or inspired films like Lilo & Stitch, Moana, and Jurassic Park, which has only nudged the popularity of the islands as a destination higher.
The romanticized laid-back islander culture appeals to mainlanders looking for a more relaxed way of life, and the natural beauty of the islands holds obvious appeal.
Traditional luau is now hard to separate from its tourist-inspired modern incarnation. Modern luaus tend less toward the traditional and more toward a giant, open-air party for everyone — but particularly to expectant tourists. And as old traditions give way more and more to modern society, the global take on the luau has displaced most of the original cultural significance.
But the luau still holds an important role in the lives of native Hawaiians, who honor the tradition by holding a luau to celebrate major life events and cement the bonds of family and community.
The Once and Future Luau
That’s about it for the history of the luau. Its modern incarnation still echoes its ancient roots, but it has evolved to become its own unique aspect of modern Hawaiian culture. And there’s no telling where it goes from here, as past and present continue to combine to build the future.
Looking to set the tone for a luau? Get your lei today.
Lei Flowers: What Is Used to Create a Traditional Hawaiian Lei
Were you one of the 9.3 million people who visited the Aloha State in 2017?
If so, you were likely greeted with a beautiful necklace of lei flowers. The lei dates back thousands of years to the goddess Kuku’ena, who–according to legend–brought seeds to the islands for lei making and traditional medicine.
Regardless of how leis got started, one thing is for sure: they remain an integral part of Hawaiian culture.
Have you ever wonder what kinds of flowers are used in leis? Are there different types of leis for different occasions?
In this post, we’ll reveal some common lei flowers and interesting facts about the traditional Hawaiian lei.
Popular Lei Flowers
Let’s start with a rundown of eight of the most popular flowers used in lei making.
1. Okika (Orchid)
Thanks to their beauty and sturdiness, the orchid is one of the most common flowers used in leis. You’ve probably seen them in white or purple, but they also come in shades of pink, yellow, and green.
The most popular type of orchid is the dendrobium variety. It’s been used in lei making for over 200 years and comes in an impressive 1,200 species.
2. Pikake (Arabian Jasmine)
Pikake is the Hawaiian name for Jasmine and translates to “peacock.” The white blossom was originally brought to the Hawaiian islands by Chinese immigrants.
Its scent is mild and bright, making it one of the most popular choices for flower leis. The pikake is commonly seen in wedding leis and leis for other special occasions.
3. Melia (Plumeria)
Melia, also known as plumeria or frangipani, commonly comes from the island of Kauai. The five-petal starlike blossom was first introduced to Hawaii back in the 1800s and is now grown commercially for leis.
Plumeria comes in a spectacular array of colors, including white, pink, yellow, and red. Its scent is fragrant, sweet, and delightful. In addition to a lei, many visitors to Hawaii enjoy wearing a blossom behind their ear.
A word of caution–be careful if you see plumeria growing in the wild. The tree contains a milky sap that’s poisonous to humans, so it’s best to keep your distance.
A tuberose lei is made from the night-blooming tuberose plant. The flowers grow on elongated stalks up to 18 inches long that make them perfect for leis or bouquets.
The scent of the tuberose is unmistakable. It’s considered one of the most fragrant flowers in the world and produces a rich, sultry scent.
The most common variety is white or cream-colored, although they sometimes appear light pink or purple too.
5. Pua Male
Pua male, also called stephanotis, is often referred to as Hawaii’s wedding flower. In fact, “pua male” translates to “marry flower.”
Originally from the island of Madagascar, this variety of jasmine was introduced to Hawaii hundreds of years ago. Loved for its waxy, delicate white blooms and seductive fragrance, it quickly became the flower of choice for Hawaiian weddings.
Interestingly, pua male grows on a woody vine that can be used as a base for the lei. It’s notoriously temperamental and hard to grow, making it even more valuable to the wearer.
6. Ti Leaf
Feeling lucky? A ti leaf lei is believed to bring good luck to the wearer, making it a popular choice for graduations and other major life events.
Don’t let the name fool you–the ti leaf plant has nothing to do with tea. It’s actually in the same group as asparagus, yucca, and agave. The leaves are traditionally green, although there are also red, orange, and yellow varieties.
A tea leaf lei is made by braiding together the leaves of the plant. Blossoms of different flowers can also be woven in to add some color.
Another beloved flower for Hawaiian leis is made from Malaysian or Micronesian ginger. Its strong, seductive fragrance makes it a popular choice for women.
Ginger leis are commonly given for anniversaries, birthdays, and major life events, such as retirement.
A ginger lei can be worn with the flowers either flat or feathered. For a pop of color, it’s also possible to weave more colorful species in with the ginger flowers.
With its Mediterranean origin, you may not immediately think of ponimo’i, or carnations, as a popular choice for lei flowers.
The red or white flowers were first brought to the Hawaiian islands by Protestant missionaries in the 1800s. Women traditionally wear white, while men wear the red variety.
The carnation experienced a surge in popularity in the late 1800s, as it was the favorite flower of King Kalakaua.
Popular Types of Leis
Now that you know the most common types of flowers in leis, let’s take a quick look at the most popular styles.
1. Traditional Lei
A traditional lei is worn around the neck, but here’s an expert tip: Don’t wear it like a necklace!
If you want to rock your lei like a local, position it so it’s draped evenly across your shoulders. Equal parts of the length should hang across your front and your back.
2. Head Lei
A head lei, also known as a haku lei, is a crown or headdress made of flowers.
Although not strictly traditional, it’s experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Head leis are ideal for wedding ceremonies, luau parties, and other festive occasions.
If a neck lei or head lei seems too over-the-top for you, why not consider a tasteful flower bracelet or corsage?
This discreet style is the perfect way to ease into the Aloha spirit.
Final Thoughts on Hawaiian Leis
Whether it’s orchids, jasmine, or plumeria, lei flowers are always a fragrant and delightful sight.
The good news is you don’t have to wait until your next trip to Hawaii to experience them. You can order beautiful, fresh flower leis and have them shipped right to your home.
Interested in learning more about flowers, leis, and Hawaiian culture? Be sure to check out our latest blog posts.
Hawaiian Lei Day
“May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.” This phrase is incredibly popular in Hawaii as it is used as a reminder for Lei Day, a state holiday that the island nation of Hawaii celebrates every year on May 1st, instead of celebrating May Day.
Lei Day celebrates Hawaii’s famous fresh flower leis that are used to mark all sorts of celebrations, from school graduations to weddings, and were traditionally used as a sign of peace between tribes.
Lei Day starts on the morning on May 1st and continues throughout the day and into the next day as well; it is one of Hawaii’s most celebrated and popular annual holidays.
How did Lei Day originate?
Lei Day can be traced back to the late 1920s when Don Blanding, a poet and writer, wrote an article for a local newspaper that suggested there should be a day that allows Hawaiians to celebrate the leis that they are famous for. The idea was that the holiday should celebrate the custom of making and wearing a lei to celebrate all sorts of different occasions.
Although Don Blanding came up with the idea of celebrating the lei, it was Grace Tower Warren, another writer, who suggested that the holiday should coincide with May Day. She is also the one who came up with the famous phrase “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii”, that is still used today.
The first Lei Day was held on May 1st in 1928 in Honolulu, with everyone encouraged to wear leis and take part in the celebrations. In downtown Honolulu, celebrations were held with leis and flowers covering every surface, from felt hats to cars. It was said that the celebrations captured the old spirit of Hawaii – a love of flowers, bright colors, and laughter. The year later, Lei Day was made an official holiday and has been celebrated every year since, with the exception of the years during the Second World War.
How is Lei Day celebrated?
Today, Lei Day is celebrated across Hawaii with the largest Lei Day event being held in Oahu. The celebrations take place in Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki, featuring lots of live music, hula dancing, lei making, demonstrations, delicious foods, crafts, and much more. A lei making queen is also crowned to watch over the celebrations.
Across Hawaii, other smaller celebrations are also held, such as in different towns and villages, as well as in schools. These celebrations are similar to the ones held in Oahu but smaller, they still incorporate lei making, music, dancing, food, the crowning of a lei queen and sometimes a lei king as well.
What are the different types of leis?
There are lots of different leis as each of the major Hawaiian islands has its own distinct lei. A lot of people in Hawaii don’t like to say “I love you,” so instead they give a lei to their loved ones, conveying their feelings.
In the main island of Hawaii, a lehua lei is given. This lei is made of the blossoms from a lehua tree, and are normally red, and sometimes yellow, orange or white.
The people of Kauai give a mokihana lei, which is a lei made of purplish berries that are native to the island. These berries are strong and woven with maile, they have a strong smell and stay fresh for longer than more other berries.
In Kaho’olawe, hinahina leis are given. These beautiful leis are made of the hinahina stems and flowers that are silver gray in color and found on the island’s beaches.
The people of Lanai make and give kaunaoa leis. These leis are made from orange-colored strands that are woven together to create bright, beautiful leis.
In Maui, leis are made from the lokelani, a pink rose known as the ‘rose of heaven.’ It has a sweet floral smell and is incredibly delicate.
Those are just a few of the leis that the Hawaiian islands are famous for, there are also many others, including some made from fruit, nuts, and vine, as well as fresh flowers, most often loose orchid blooms.
What are the lei giving etiquettes and customs?
In Hawaii, being given a lei as a gift is seen as a great honor, so if you are given one, you must not take it off in the presence of the person who gave it to you, or it’s considered rude. It’s important to thank the person that gave you the lei and show gratitude for it.
Traditionally, the chiefs of tribes on the Hawaiian islands would give leis as a sign of peace and respect to other tribal chiefs. Which is why they are still given to visitors today, as well as being used to mark celebrations like weddings and births.
When most people hear the words “Destination Wedding in Hawaii,” the natural reaction is excitement. Who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii? For the couple getting married, stress follows excitement when they realize how much they need to accomplish from a distance.
Luckily, Hawaii hosts a lot of destination weddings, which means there are resources available to manage everything you need from wherever you call home. Many companies will plan and do everything for you, for the right price. While that may sound tempting and perhaps even ideal, remember that such a plan means that someone else is making a lot of the decisions about your wedding. While they may allow you to choose from various options, keep in mind that they have chosen the options from which you get to choose.
There are also companies that will provide just the level of support you desire. This type of company allows you to retain control over those elements that are most important to you, while allowing them to take care of things such as your Right-of-Entry Permit that will make it legal for you to get married on a beach. While each person will have different things that matter most to them, most people tend to care about location, their flowers, and the gifts they provide to members of the wedding and their guests. When it comes to those items, most people want more than a couple of choices. They also want everything to feel distinctly Hawaiian.
That’s where we come in. When you’re ready to choose your beautiful and distinctive leis and corsages, our selection will allow you to express yourself in the most Hawaiian of ways. What’s more, you can continue to express yourself, and provide a lasting memory, by selecting gifts for your wedding party that will remind them of your wedding in paradise for years to come.
If you’re ready to add the right touches to your Hawaiian wedding, contact us.
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The orchid is traditionally a symbol of beauty and love, strength, luxury, fertility, and power. And it is no wonder, with its long stem and exotic brightly colored bloom. The orchid is easily distinguishable and indefinitely elegant—always a well-received gift.
The orchid was not always simply a gift to be given or even purely decorative though. In fact, it has had many uses beyond the ornamental throughout history. In China, the orchid has been used medicinally for centuries, specifically to treat lung and stomach cancers. In ancient Greece and Aztec cultures, the orchid was considered to give strength and the vanilla flavor would be extracted and then ingested in order to gain strength. Yet, in American society, the flower is generally a gift of thought whether for thankfulness, sympathy, or congratulations.
Hawaiian orchids are especially bright and cheerful while still portraying the same elegance and luxury as any other orchid. As with many other flowers, the varying colors of the orchid each hold a specific underlying meaning. Color should be considered before giving an orchid.
Red is a passionate color, usually reserved for romantic love. Pink is also a romantic color, or a color of friendship. Dark red is a color of leadership and courage. Orange generates enthusiasm, creativity, and success. Yellow is a color of joy and energy. Green radiates growth, stability, and healing. Blue is for loyalty, wisdom, and tranquility. Purple is a color used for wisdom, dignity, and mystery. White is a color of purity, and brown is a color of stability and clear thinking.
Contact us for information on the types of Hawaiian orchids that we provide and let us help you decide what would be best for you.
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Candy Lei Kits
Hawaiian flower leis are lovely but for keiki (kids) it is more about FUN! As the school year ends many celebrate children moving to the next grade with a ‘graduation’ of their own.
For a fun, safe and easy party our candy lei kits bring a Hawaiian touch to your event. Kits come in an assortment of designs and colors. Each kit makes 5 leis. Just use your favorite wrapped candy. Use 20 pieces of candy for each lei.
The kits are made from a printed, strong cello tube. Color ties are included so all your little students have to do is slide the candy inside and tie between each piece. The lei is then tied to close. Simple and fun.
Candy lei kits also make a great birthday party theme.
We have some new designs this year (shown below) and have added them to our web site. In addition to our traditional hibiscus color themes we now have a maile design that resembles the Hawaiian vine worn in graduation ceremonies.
The second new design is the ‘kapa’ or ‘tapa’ design, derived from traditional Hawaiian printing and paper making. And of course we’ve added pineapple, a Hawaiian favorite and favorite of kids as well.