Legacy of lei: Celebrate the lei in the month of May

| April 30, 2015 | 0 Comments
Nancy Tagawa preps her material during a lei-making workshop Monday afternoon at Manoa Valley District Park. In front of her are panax root, plumeria, ti leaf and bouganvillea blossoms. (Photo by Karen Iwamoto)

Nancy Tagawa preps her material during a lei-making workshop Monday afternoon at Manoa Valley District Park. In front of her are panax root, plumeria, ti leaf and bouganvillea blossoms. (Photo by Karen Iwamoto)

Karen A. Iwamoto
Staff Writer
HONOLULU — In Hawaii, the month of May is synonymous with the lei. These floral garlands are typically given as a symbol of affection to friends or family upon arrival or departure, and can be as simple as a string of plumeria or as complicated as an intricate braiding of flowers, fern and leaves.

Hawaiian lei vendors display their wares in this photo taken circa 1901. May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, a day to celebrate Hawaiian history and culture.

Hawaiian lei vendors display their wares in this photo taken circa 1901. May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, a day to celebrate Hawaiian history and culture.

Hawaii officially designated the first day of May as Lei Day in 1929. Advertising writer Don Blanding is widely credited with hatching the idea for Lei Day after he wrote a newspaper article suggesting there should be a day set aside for the wearing and production of lei.

However, it was writer Grace Tower Warren that coined the term “May Day is Lei Day” and suggested it be celebrated on May 1.

Since then, during this time of the year, people in Hawaii gather in classrooms and community centers across the state to make lei and learn about Hawaii’s history and culture. The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation hosts lei-­making workshops at various locations around Oahu in conjunction with May Day.

At Manoa Valley District Park on Monday, Mark Koga taught students ranging in age from kindergarteners to senior citizens how to make three types of lei:
• Kui: In this lei variation, plant materials, usually flowers, are strung together. This type of lei is most familiar to visitors to Hawaii.
• Hili: In this lei variation, a single plant material, usually ti leaf, is braided or woven.
• Wili: In this lei variation, plant materials, usually flowers and leaves, are placed on a backing of lau ki, lauhala or dried banana leaf and wound with fiber or thread.

“I like (the wili) the best,” said Kaia Chow, as she wrapped pink bougainvillea and green panax (a leafy root) into a wili lei. “I like the pretty colors. I like pink.”

Kaia is from Los Angeles, but her mother, Sarah Chow, grew up in Hawaii and moved her family to Oahu for the year so her children could experience the island culture.

“The funny thing is, initially we were just going to stay for a semester,” Sarah said. “But everything was so awesome and then one of my friends said to me, ‘If you want to experience Hawaii’s culture, you gotta stay for May Day.’”

Also in the Koga’s class was Nancy Tagawa, a senior citizen who said that her favorite lei variation was the hili. She said she was drawn to the simplicity of the single braid and thought it would be a nice lei to give to friends.

“I just have to practice some more when I get home,” she said.

B1_Lei_Day_Workshop_002_wThe children in Koga’s class had the option of submitting their lei into Honolulu’s 88th Lei Day Celebration Youth Hawaiian Lei Competition at Kapiolani Park. The competition is part of the city’s Lei Day festivities, which includes the investiture of the May Day royal court.

Although the annual Lei Day celebration is the largest celebration dedicated to lei production, there are other upcoming opportunities to admire or make lei. On Memorial Day, thousands of lei are laid on the gravestones of veterans at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

On Kamehameha Day during the first week of June, the City and County of Honolulu hosts a King Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping Ceremony at Iolani Palace. At the ceremony, lei sewn by the ladies of Ahahui Kaahumanu will be placed on the statue of King Kamehameha fronting the palace. A similar lei-draping ceremony takes place on Kamehameha Day at the King Kamehameha statue in Kapaau on Hawaii Island.

Lei Day Court (courtesy photo)

Lei Day Court (courtesy photo)

May Day celebration schedule of events
Friday, May 1, at Kapiolani Regional Park
9-9:45 a.m.—Royal Hawaiian Band
10-10:45 a.m.—Na Wahine O Ka Hula Mai Ka Puuwai
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.—Investiture ceremony for the 2015 Lei Queen & Court
12:30 p.m.—Official opening of the Lei Contest Exhbit by the 2015 Lei Queen & Court
12:45-4:25 p.m.— Entertainment music and hula featuring Melveen Leed, Mark Yamanaka, Huʻewa and Halau Hula O Hokulani
Also not to be missed:
10 a.m.-3 p.m.—The Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association will play in the open area between the bandstand and the Waikiki Shell.
1-4:30 p.m.— The Lei Contest Exhibit will be open to the public in the open area between the bandstand and the Waikiki Shell.
10 a.m.-4 p.m.—A village of Hawaiian artisans will offer song, dance, lei-making and lauhala-weaving demonstrations at Kulana Lei at Kapiolani Regional Park.

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Category: Community, Community Relations, Observances

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