Touch the Lei of Aloha

Daily Draw February 22nd, 2012



Today I felt like a postcard. This is one sent me by a friend in Hawaii, which depicts women sewing leis. These particular leis look like are made from the plumeria flower. We think of leis as tourist kitsch, but I didn’t realize how many types there are and different methods of making them.

Back in history, chiefs would wear permanent leis to denote their status, often made of bone, shells, and ivory or feathers. Today they use similar items for permanent leis, but also plastic, fabric, origami, currency bills, and fish teeth. The materials used for the base change too, and some leis use tree bark or large leaves, some use moss or ferns, some are sewn to a backing of paper or felt, or strung on thread, or by winding fibre around items and joining them.

A lei can be used as a gesture of affection, what we are most used to, but they are also used at funerals as a sign of grief and compassion. Any ceremony or event can be marked with a lei, from farming and religious ceremonies to a child’s birth.

On the back of this card it says “Lei makers sew lei of aloha for visitors and kamaaina (residents).” Aloha we take to mean simply “Hello” but it is really more of a concept of peace, mercy and compassion as well as affection. It is much deeper culturally than the tourist trade can convey. It is an ethical way of life, and joy and feeling the peace of God within, the sparkle of the spiritual. Not just the giving of a pretty, ephemeral flower wreath but giving of the spirit, of binding up a way of life and attitude in the wreath.

Knowing this, it becomes a bit cringe-worthy to reflect on the lei being thrown in the garbage by a tourist, who never considered the spiritual culture of the islands, but merely wanted to soak up some sun and cocktails by a pool. The old Hawaiians would greet ships with fruit and flowers. Historical accounts of British naval officers treating the people like children, and wanting sex with the freely sharing Hawaiian women abound. Missionaries had to come in and sort this out. God forbid you be generous and open-hearted, filled with spiritual joy and exultant at the thought of visitors to share with.

Welcome to Hawaii, the place where you think and feel a bit deeper, and breathe with God generously. Touch the lei of aloha.




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