Aloha! Our student worker shared her lei making history with us. From her post, you can learn various styles of lei. Enjoy!
Aloha everyone. It’s me, Jessica again. Today I want to talk about different types of lei making that I’ve learned over the years from different people as well as from different Hawaiian Studies/Culture workshops.
The first one I want to introduce is the Kui (needle), or in other words, the single-strand lei often made with thread, needle, and your choice of flowers. The most common one is the plumeria single lei that is given out at a Lūʻau, airports, or sometimes at graduations, but I suppose any flower that you can string will suffice. As a child, this was the one and the only way I knew how to make a lei, so I often would pick all of my mother’s plumeria flowers that were blooming in the front yard and get scolded when she came home to see a bald plumeria tree left. Though, she couldn’t stay too mad at me for long when I presented her with the leis that I made special for her.
(Photo credit: https://plumeria101.com/plumeria-lei-making/)
As I grew older, I met a lot of cool Hawaiian friends and they taught me how to make the simplest Ti leaf lei. I also learned how to make the more intricate leis, such as the Haku and Po’o leis, at a few lei making workshops hosted by the Hawaiian Studies Department at Hawaii Community College.
For the Ti leaf lei, this one was super easy, but I just didn’t know. Having gone to elementary school here on the island, I would have to make my own Ti leaf hula skirt for the May Day celebration. We were all required to make our own Ti leaf hula skirt for our Hula performances. Though I was quite familiar with Ti leaves, I didn’t know/was never taught how to make them into a lei. So, one of my Hawaiian friends taught me how to make them in high school for a graduation that was coming up. After a few tries I felt like a pro. You simply need to de-bone the stem from the leaf, soften the leaves with either an iron, microwave, or blanch for a few minutes, then twist them together, almost like braiding but with just two strands instead of three. When you’re done, you can either thread the ends through the loop you made in the beginning, then tie a knot and it’s done. Or, you can tie a knot on each end and wear it hanging from your neck instead of around it.
Photo credit: https://www.geckofarms.com/shop/leis/leaf-nut-leis/double-ti-leaf-lei/
For the Haku (head/crown) lei, I didn’t learn how to make one until adulthood through a workshop. Since I had never learned how to as a child, I took the advantage of learning it first hand from the pros. For this Haku lei, we used Ti leaf strips to tie the flowers securely to each other after picking our fresh flowers from the forest up in the mountain. After I wove my flowers together and successfully created my Haku lei, I was told that it was also a Po’o (head) lei because I made it for wearing on my head. According to my Kumu (teacher), a Haku lei can be for any part of your body. It can be for your head, wrist, and ankles. So, for mine, I made it for my head so even though it was a Haku lei, it also was a Po’o lei. I heard that these two are interchangeable, so it all depends on what you choose to call it.
Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/566141457621718/
For the last one, I want to talk about the Wili (to wind) lei. The Wili lei is a bit more complex, but more durable and flexible in my opinion. Basically you need to use twine, like raffia, string, or floral wire, to weave the flowers together. The method of flower weaving is much like the Haku lei, just that instead of using Ti leaf strips, you are now using more durable materials to sort of tie the flowers in place. When I first made a Wili lei I had issues with the raffia. You would think that it’s quite easy to work with, but I didn’t know/wasn’t told that wetting the raffia prior to weaving made it much easier to use. When I first used raffia, it was so thin and light that it kept flying everywhere, even with the slightest of wind, and kept wrapping around my fingers when I didn’t want it to. Towards the end, my friend sprayed water over my hands and the lei that I was making, and told me that I needed to wet my raffia. Thanks friend. I wish you would have told me that in the beginning instead of towards the end. All in all though, my Wili lei came out looking just as beautiful as my friend’s lei as well as the ones I had made prior.
Happy lei making~!