The origins of the Hawaiian lei go back so far that there are no clear records of their exact history. Just stories passed down orally through the generations. While there are some bits and pieces of knowledge for its earliest history that we know, the specifics are largely lost. Nevertheless, it’s a tradition that survived the 2,600-mile journey from Tahiti to Hawaii and still goes strong today, nearly 2,000 years later.
The History of the Lei
As mentioned, the story behind the Hawaiian lei finds its origin in ancient Polynesia. It was a tradition of gift-giving naturally-made necklaces to show affection and respect to one another. But the Polynesians decided to set sail across the ocean, following the stars to their next destination; that’s when they discovered the Hawaiian Islands.
Settling And Seeding the Islands
After their discovery, the Polynesians decided to settle the islands themselves, carving out a new home. With them, they brought seeds from their native homes, seeding the land that would become the Hawaiian Islands with their mementos. Many of these plants eventually grew to be incorporated among Hawaiian lei, along with many other plants native to the islands.
The Meaning Behind the Lei
Over time, some Hawaiian lei grew to represent royalty and honor, something individuals of high authority adorned themselves with. There were still lei that the common people gave each other to symbolize love, friendship, and commitment, but the lei for the ruling class dominated ancient Hawaiian history.
What It Symbolizes Today
Even after so many centuries, the Hawaiian lei is still prominent in popular culture. It’s a significant decoration during hula demonstrations and is a relic that still holds enormous importance in Hawaiian culture. People still gift and receive them for a myriad of reasons, whether that’s a sign of welcome, an affirmation of love, or a sign of solidarity at funerals.
In the past, a highly detailed lei was something only the ruling class could obtain. But today, due to its popularity and significance, anyone can buy a Hawaiian lei online for a special occasion. There’s a lei for every occasion, such as for weddings, graduations, or funerals.