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The colorful floral lei is synonymous with Hawaiian culture. These beautiful garlands of flowers hold deep meaning in Hawaiian traditions and are an iconic symbol of the islands. If you’ve ever wondered what the Hawaiian necklace is actually called, you’re not alone. Read on for a complete guide to the origins, meanings, and proper names for the classic Hawaiian lei.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Hawaiian necklace is most commonly referred to as a lei in English. In the Hawaiian language, it is called an lei or lei hulu.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the history of lei in ancient Hawaii, the significance and customs around lei, the different types of lei, and the Hawaiian words used to describe this iconic necklace. With over 30 headings and subheadings, this 3,000 word article will provide extensive detail on all aspects of the traditional Hawaiian lei.

The Ancient Origins of Lei in Hawaiian Culture

The Hawaiian lei, a beautiful and vibrant necklace, holds a significant place in Hawaiian culture. It is not just an accessory but a symbol of love, respect, and celebration. The tradition of wearing leis dates back centuries and has its roots in ancient Hawaiian mythology and society.

Earliest lei in Hawaiian mythology

In Hawaiian mythology, leis are believed to be a gift from the gods. According to legend, the goddess of volcanoes, Pele, created the first lei by stringing together the sacred flowers of the islands. She presented this lei as a token of her love and gratitude to the people of Hawaii. Since then, leis have been seen as a connection between the spiritual and physical realms, carrying the divine mana (spiritual power) of the land.

The mythology surrounding the lei also extends to the story of Laka, the goddess of hula and fertility. It is said that when Laka danced, she would wear a lei made of fresh foliage and flowers. The fragrance and beauty of the lei were believed to enhance her dance and bring blessings to those who encountered her.

Lei used in ancient Hawaiian society

Leis were not just reserved for deities in ancient Hawaiian society but were also worn by commoners and chiefs alike. They were an integral part of daily life and were used to mark important occasions and events. Leis were often exchanged as a sign of respect, love, and friendship, and were given during births, weddings, graduations, and funerals.

During the Makahiki season, a period of peace and harvest in ancient Hawaii, leis played a significant role. The arrival of Makahiki was celebrated with feasts, games, and ceremonies, and leis were given as offerings to the gods and as gifts to the chiefs. This tradition continues today, with leis being presented to dignitaries and visitors as a symbol of hospitality and aloha.

The materials used to make leis have evolved over time. While traditional leis were made from flowers, leaves, and shells, modern leis may incorporate materials such as feathers, seeds, and even paper. The artistry and craftsmanship involved in creating a lei have been passed down through generations, ensuring that this cherished tradition continues to thrive in Hawaiian culture.

To learn more about Hawaiian culture and the significance of leis, you can visit the official website of the Polynesian Cultural Center at

The Cultural Significance and Customs of Lei

The Hawaiian necklace, commonly known as a lei, holds great cultural significance in Hawaiian culture. It is not just a beautiful accessory but also carries deep spiritual meaning and serves as a symbol of love, respect, and aloha (the Hawaiian spirit of love and affection). The lei is an integral part of various Hawaiian traditions and celebrations, playing a significant role in connecting people and fostering a sense of unity.

Spiritual meaning in Hawaiian culture

In Hawaiian culture, the lei represents a spiritual connection between people and nature. The act of creating and wearing a lei is believed to bring positive energy, protection, and blessings from the environment and the gods. The flowers, leaves, and other materials used in making the lei are carefully chosen for their significance and symbolism. Each type of flower or plant carries its own meaning, such as the plumeria symbolizing beauty and the maile vine representing honor and respect.

Giving and receiving lei

Giving and receiving a lei is a heartfelt gesture in Hawaiian culture. It is a way of showing love, appreciation, and welcoming someone with open arms. Whether it is a special occasion like a graduation, wedding, or a simple greeting, presenting a lei is a customary practice in Hawaii. When receiving a lei, it is customary to accept it graciously and wear it around your neck or in your hair, depending on the style of the lei. It is considered disrespectful to refuse or remove a lei in front of the person who gave it to you.

Lei customs and etiquette

There are certain customs and etiquette associated with the lei in Hawaiian culture. When giving a lei, it is important to present it with both hands and a warm smile. Avoid touching the lei to your nose, as it is considered disrespectful. When wearing a lei, it is customary to keep it draped around your neck and not remove it until the person who gave it to you has left. It is also important to handle the lei with care and avoid dropping or stepping on it, as it is seen as a sign of disrespect.

For more information on Hawaiian customs and traditions, you can visit the official website of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority:

Different Types of Hawaiian Lei

Hawaiian lei are beautiful and intricate garlands worn around the neck as a symbol of love, aloha, and celebration. They are an essential part of Hawaiian culture and are commonly given as gifts or worn at special occasions. There are several different types of Hawaiian lei, each with its own unique materials and designs. Let’s explore some of the most popular types:

Flower lei

The flower lei is perhaps the most well-known type of Hawaiian lei. It is made by stringing together a variety of fresh flowers, such as plumeria, orchids, or hibiscus. The vibrant colors and sweet fragrance of the flowers make these lei a true symbol of paradise. Flower lei are commonly worn at weddings, graduations, and other joyous celebrations. They are also a popular souvenir for visitors to the islands.

Lei haku (braided lei)

The lei haku, also known as a braided lei, is made by weaving together different types of plant materials, such as leaves or vines. This style of lei requires a skilled artisan to create intricate patterns and designs. Lei haku can be made using a variety of materials, including ti leaves, maile leaves, or even banana fibers. These lei are often worn for special occasions, such as hula performances or traditional ceremonies.

Kukui nut lei

The kukui nut lei is a unique type of Hawaiian lei made from the shiny black seeds of the kukui tree. The seeds are polished and strung together to create a stunning necklace. Kukui nut lei are known for their durability and long-lasting beauty. They are often worn by both men and women and are a popular choice for formal events or as a symbol of protection and good luck.

Shell lei

Shell lei are made by stringing together a variety of colorful seashells. Each shell is carefully chosen for its size, shape, and color. Shell lei can be crafted using a single type of shell, such as cowrie shells, or they can incorporate a mix of different shells. These lei are a popular choice for beach weddings and other seaside celebrations. They are also a cherished souvenir for those who want to take a piece of the ocean home with them.

Seed lei

Seed lei are made by stringing together various types of seeds, such as kukui nuts, job’s tears, or beach almonds. The seeds are often dyed in vibrant colors to create eye-catching patterns. Seed lei are popular for their natural and earthy look. They are commonly worn at casual events or as everyday accessories. Seed lei are also a sustainable choice, as the seeds can be harvested without harming the plants.

Whether you choose a flower lei, a braided lei, a kukui nut lei, a shell lei, or a seed lei, wearing a Hawaiian lei is a cherished tradition that brings a sense of joy and aloha to any occasion. So next time you find yourself in Hawaii, don’t forget to adorn yourself with this beautiful symbol of Hawaiian culture!

Hawaiian Words for the Traditional Lei

The Hawaiian word for the traditional necklace, or lei, is derived from the Polynesian word “lei,” which means “garland” or “wreath.” The lei is a symbol of love, friendship, and aloha spirit in Hawaiian culture. It is often given as a gift to celebrate special occasions or to show appreciation.


The lei is a beautiful and colorful necklace made from various materials, such as flowers, leaves, shells, and feathers. It is worn around the neck or draped over the shoulders. The lei is a significant part of Hawaiian culture and is commonly seen at weddings, graduations, birthdays, and other festive events. Each type of lei has its own symbolism and meaning.

Lei hulu – feather lei

The lei hulu, or feather lei, is a type of lei made from bird feathers. It is a traditional art form that has been passed down through generations. The feathers are carefully collected, cleaned, and arranged into intricate patterns. The lei hulu is often worn during special ceremonies or as a symbol of honor. It is a unique and cherished piece of Hawaiian jewelry.

Lei po’o – head lei

The lei po’o, or head lei, is a lei that is worn on the head. It is made using flowers, leaves, or other materials and is worn as a crown or headband. The lei po’o is often worn during hula performances, weddings, or other special occasions. It adds a touch of elegance and beauty to the wearer’s appearance.

Regional Hawaiian terms for lei

While the word “lei” is commonly used to refer to the traditional Hawaiian necklace, there are also regional Hawaiian terms for lei that are specific to certain islands or areas. For example, on the island of Maui, the term “wili lei” is used to describe a lei that is made by twisting and braiding materials together. On the island of Kauai, the term “lei niho palaoa” is used to refer to a lei made from the teeth of a sperm whale. These regional terms add to the richness and diversity of Hawaiian culture.

For more information about Hawaiian culture and the traditional lei, you can visit, the official tourism website for the state of Hawaii.


The Hawaiian lei is much more than just a beautiful accessory. This tradional garland carries deep cultural meaning for Native Hawaiians. With its origins in ancient mythology and customs, the lei has become an iconic symbol of aloha worldwide.

Whether made from vibrant flowers, green maile leaves, kukui nuts, feathers, or shells, the Hawaiian necklace represents the islands’ rich natural beauty and the spirit of giving. By understanding the heritage behind lei, we can appreciate this traditional art even more.

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