Arts and Culture

The Art of Lei Making

Polynesian culture has influenced much of the décor and art of modern-day Hawaii. So much of the beauty and ceremony of the island is expressed in a variety of forms passed down from generations prior. One of these forms is the Hawaiian lei. Made popular during the steamship era, these crafts have become synonymous with warm and hospitable island culture.

Ceremony and Celebration

Today, leis are showcased at many ceremonies we attend today. Everything from graduations to pageants are opportunities to celebrate and share this art form. So honored is this tradition that Lei Day was established in 1929. This annual celebration begins on the first of May and features lei-making contests, pageants, and of course festivities.

For those who would like to forage for their own lei materials, the state of Hawaii issues free permits for foraging for lei material and rare flowers in island forests.

This festival represents an opportunity for each island to showcase its own special flower through lei making. The flowers of the islands are as follows:

  • The Big Island – the red or Lehua blossom of the Ohia tree
  • Maui – the pink Lokelani flower
  • Oahu – represented by the ripe green Ilima
  • Molokai – the Kukui tree flower
  • Lanai – the yellow Kauna’oa
  • Kahoolawe – the Hinahina flower
  • The Island of Niihau – Pupu

Lei Styles

The styles and materials of leis each make them suitable for different occasions. For beginners, Kui Leis are the most commonly made as Haku’s are more elaborate and require a bit more touch and skill.

Kui Lei – a single-strand lei. It is commonly made out of the sweet-scented Plumeria flower or purple orchids. The most frequent lei you see, often given at ceremonies, graduations and ceremonies.

kui lei how to make leis

Haku Lei – a beautiful, layered, and braided lei commonly seen around the heads of Hula dancers.

how to make haku leis

Lei Wili – A unique style made by braiding Raffia leaves and weaving in flowers. Commonly worn around the wrist or the head.

lei wili making leis

Lei making classes are available through many resorts or workshops around the Island and of course at Lei Day on May 1. The workshop from Hawaiian Hula Company is great and includes Hula lessons as well!

Let’s Talk

Please email me or give me a call at 808.938.3910 and tell me if you are interested in learning more about lei making or anything about life on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Read More of My Blogs:

Top Beaches in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii
Farmers’ Markets on the Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaii’s Fast-Emerging Café Culture

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Lisa Pegg

August 5, 2021

I really enjoy the knowledge you share! My specialty is a double or triple strand crown flower lei (depends on how many flowers I end up picking!) because I have a crown flower plant in my yard and it’s very giving.

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