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The mala, also known as a lei niho palaoa, holds deep cultural and spiritual meaning in Hawaii. With its beads traditionally made from whale ivory and shell, the mala represents ancestry, wisdom, protection and connection in Hawaiian culture.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The mala is a necklace or bracelet made with beads that holds spiritual and cultural significance in Hawaii. Malas are used for prayer, meditation, protection and honoring ancestors.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the origins and history of the mala, its meaning and symbolism, how malas are used and crafted, the spiritual practices associated with the mala, and its continued importance in modern Hawaiian culture.

The Origins and History of the Mala

The mala, a traditional Hawaiian necklace made from natural materials, has a deep-rooted history and cultural significance in Hawaiian culture. The word “mala” translates to “garland” in English, and it has been an integral part of Hawaiian traditions for centuries. Understanding the origins and history of the mala provides insight into its importance in Hawaiian culture.

Materials Used

The mala is typically made from natural materials found in Hawaii, such as seeds, shells, bones, and stones. Each material holds symbolic meaning, with seeds representing fertility and growth, shells symbolizing the ocean and its power, bones signifying ancestral connections, and stones representing the land and its stability. The combination of these materials creates a unique and meaningful piece of jewelry that reflects the natural beauty of Hawaii.

Traditional Craftsmanship and Blessing

Creating a mala requires skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail. Artisans carefully select and string the materials, often incorporating various colors and patterns to enhance the design. The process of creating a mala is not just a physical act but also a spiritual one. Before being worn, the mala is typically blessed by a Hawaiian elder or spiritual leader, imbuing it with mana, or spiritual power. This blessing ensures that the mala carries the positive energy and intentions of its wearer.

Evolution and Cultural Significance

Over time, the mala has evolved and adapted to changing cultural practices. While it was traditionally used for religious and ceremonial purposes, it has also become a popular fashion accessory and a symbol of Hawaiian identity. Many people wear a mala to connect with their Hawaiian heritage, express their love for the islands, or simply as a reminder of the beauty and spirituality of Hawaii.

The mala has also gained recognition beyond Hawaiian shores. Its unique design and cultural significance have attracted people from various backgrounds who appreciate its beauty and symbolism. Today, the mala serves as a bridge between different cultures, fostering understanding and appreciation for Hawaiian traditions.

To learn more about the mala and its cultural significance, you can visit the Hawaii Magazine website for in-depth articles and resources.

Symbolism and Meaning of the Mala

In Hawaiian culture, the mala holds great significance as a symbol of connection, protection, and oneness. This traditional garland, made from natural materials such as flowers, leaves, and shells, is not only a beautiful accessory but also a spiritual tool that carries deep meaning.

Connection to Ancestors and Wisdom

The mala serves as a powerful symbol of connection to one’s ancestors and the wisdom they impart. Each bead on the mala represents a lesson or piece of knowledge passed down through generations, reminding us of the importance of honoring our roots. By wearing or using a mala, Hawaiians feel a strong connection to their heritage and are reminded of the wisdom and guidance that their ancestors provide.

Protection and Safe Journey

Another significant meaning of the mala is protection and safe journey. In Hawaiian culture, it is believed that the mala acts as a shield, protecting the wearer from negative energy and bringing them good fortune. This belief is deeply rooted in the Hawaiian concept of mana, a spiritual energy that flows through all living things. By wearing a mala, one can harness the power of mana and ensure a safe and prosperous journey through life.

Oneness and Interconnectedness

The mala is also a symbol of oneness and interconnectedness. Each bead on the mala represents a unique aspect of life, but when strung together, they create a unified whole. This concept reflects the Hawaiian belief in the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of recognizing our place in the larger web of life. By wearing a mala, Hawaiians are reminded of their connection to nature, to each other, and to the greater universe.

Practical and Spiritual Uses of the Mala

Prayer and Meditation

The mala is a powerful tool for prayer and meditation in Hawaiian culture. It is commonly used by individuals to count the number of repetitions of a mantra or prayer. By focusing on the beads of the mala, one can enter a state of deep concentration and connect with their spiritual self. This practice is believed to calm the mind, reduce stress, and enhance spiritual growth. The mala serves as a physical reminder to stay present and focused during meditation, allowing individuals to deepen their connection with the divine.

Rituals and Ceremonies

In addition to its practical use in prayer and meditation, the mala holds great significance in Hawaiian rituals and ceremonies. It is often used in traditional healing practices, blessings, and sacred ceremonies. The mala is believed to hold spiritual energy and is used to invoke blessings, protection, and guidance from the ancestors and deities. During ceremonies, the mala is passed from person to person, symbolizing the unity and connection of the community. It is a tangible representation of the collective prayers and intentions of the participants, creating a powerful and sacred space.

Healing and Energy Work

The mala is also used in healing and energy work in Hawaiian culture. It is believed that each bead on the mala represents a specific intention or affirmation. By holding the mala and focusing on each bead, individuals can channel their intentions and send healing energy to themselves or others. The mala serves as a conduit for healing energy, helping to balance the body, mind, and spirit. It is often used in conjunction with other healing modalities such as chanting, visualization, and energy healing techniques. The mala is a versatile tool that can be customized to meet the specific needs of the individual or situation.

For more information on the significance of the mala in Hawaiian culture, you can visit

Importance and Prevalence in Modern Hawaii

In modern Hawaii, the mala holds significant importance and prevalence within the culture. It is not just a piece of jewelry but a symbol of cultural identity and tradition, a work of art, and a thriving industry in the tourism sector.

Cultural Identity and Tradition

The mala has deep roots in Hawaiian culture, representing a connection to the land, ancestors, and spiritual beliefs. It is often passed down through generations, carrying with it the stories and values of the family. Wearing a mala is a way for Hawaiians to express their pride in their heritage and maintain a sense of cultural identity.

Artistry and Craft

The creation of a mala involves a meticulous and skilled craft that has been honed over centuries. Artisans carefully select and string together natural materials such as seeds, shells, and stones, creating intricate patterns and designs. Each mala is a unique piece of art, reflecting the creativity and craftsmanship of the maker. The process of making a mala is not only a means of creating a beautiful piece of jewelry but also a way of preserving and showcasing Hawaiian artistry.

Tourism and Commercialization

In recent years, the mala has gained popularity among tourists visiting Hawaii. Its vibrant colors, natural materials, and cultural significance make it a sought-after souvenir. As a result, the mala has become a commercialized product, with many shops and online retailers offering a variety of designs to cater to the demand. However, it is important to be mindful of the authenticity and cultural significance of the mala when purchasing it as a tourist.


With its long history intertwined with spirituality and culture, the mala remains an important symbol of Hawaiian heritage today. The mala connects modern Hawaiians to their ancestors, represents protection and wisdom, and is used in rituals, prayer and meditation. While commercialization has made malas widely available, traditional malas crafted by hand from natural materials and blessed by kahuna maintain deep meaning. The mala will continue to be passed down through generations as a way to celebrate Hawaiian cultural identity.

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