Lei Day
Storage Facility

Vintage Hawaiian adornments
Don Nigro
Coins & Antiques
for your support of the
Hilo Lei Day Festival


Some Lei Customs, Traditions, and Tips

  • Do not give a lei hala to the bride and groom. "Hala" means "to release." You certainly don't want them to release their affection or bond! However, at the bachelor party, a lei hala would be good to encourage releasing the old single life and moving into the new life!
  • If the bride is hapai (pregnant), only give her open lei. A closed lei is felt to be inauspicious for the baby, representing the cord tangling the baby's neck.
  • Be sure that the lei will not stain the wedding garments. Jade vine and some other blossoms will stain, and many lei will stain when wet. Remove the lei from the container and let it air dry before wearing.
  • The kahu or other officiant should be provided with a lei maile.
  • Make sure the lei which have been selected to not trigger allergies or sensitivites in members of the wedding party. Some people cannot wear certain lei. You don't want the bride sneezing her way down the aisle



Wedding Lei

The Lei Stand


Na Lei o Hawai`i Wall Calendar

Greeting Cards

Individual Cards























Lei Maile

Lei Maile

Probably the lei most associated with weddings is the lei maile. It's heady scent evokes images of romance, and indeed, throughout Hawaiian history, myth, and legend, it is associated with courtship and romance.

Often, both the bride and groom will wear maile, either alone or with floral lei kui intertwined. Sometimes only the bride will add a floral lei. Sometimes the bride will wear a fragrant floral lei intertwined with the maile, and the groom will wear `ilima intertwined with his lei maile.

For some `ohana, the custom is to wear the lei open during the ceremony and, after the consecration, to tie the lei closed.

In legend, the Maile Sisters act as go-betweens, enticing sweethearts to meet by luring them with fragrance.

There are many varieties of maile, each with a subtly unique fragrance. Among them are maile lau li`i, the small leafed maile; maile lau nui, the large leafed maile; maile kaluhea, considered especially fragrant; maile ha`iwale, which is somewhat brittle; and the maile pākaha, a branching variety.

Maile also is generally provided for the kahu or minister who performs the ceremony.


Hawaiian Weddings

In ancient times, there was no ceremony comparable to the modern wedding. Marriage, as it is known in the Western World today, did not exist. There was no government licensing, no legal requirements, and no divorce - if a couple decided that their relationship was no longer productive, they simply parted ways. As children were reared by the entire extended family, there was little disruption in the life of the youngsters.

The maka`ainana, the common people, had traditions which varied from island to island, district to district, and family to family. Pairing could be as simple as deciding to share a sleeping mat and start a family, or as elaborate as the two families getting together, exchanging gifts, and singing as the couple retires to bed. As the house generally was the woman's property, to separate, the man's belongings might simply be removed from the home. Today, we know these kinds of common-law marriages as noho pu.

Royalty had far more elaborate ceremony when pairing off, though it was not intended to confirm a marriage in the western sense. The ceremony was to ask the blessing of the gods on the children of a royal union, to assure that they were born with perfect bodies and minds, and great mana, or spiritual power. Again, ceremonies varied according to locale and family, and could be as simple as the royal couple being escorted to their new sleeping hale and wrapped together in a sheet of pure white kapa with their family priests and chanters offering prayer and song for the union and offspring, to elaborate ceremonies of several days length involving hundreds of the courts' priests and chanters, relatives, and interested parties. These ceremonies are sometimes called ho`ao.

After the introduction of Christianity in 1819, the Christian style wedding was adopted by many families and eventually became the legal form.
The term is simply transliterated from the English word "marry" - male pronounced [MAH-lay].

Feeding each other cake, poi, or anything else, symbolizes that the couple will nurture each other through life, and HOW they do so on the wedding day is considered a symbol of how they will do so in the future. Mashing cake into each other's faces is considered in very poor taste, and taken as a symbol of serious future problems in the marriage!

While there was no such thing as cake in ancient Hawai`i, haupia, a coconut pudding, has been a popular treat here for over 1,000 years. Today, haupia cake is an island favorite, and very appropriate for weddings. In the most simple recipe, a coconut-flavored white cake is made, and coated with the haupia pudding, and often decorated with fresh island flowers and ferns.

Who Wears Which Lei at a Hawaiian Wedding?

There is really no such thing as "a man's lei" or "a woman's lei." Men often will wear a larger, heavier lei. Women often will wear a more delicate and more fragrant lei. But there are no hard and fast rules. Ideally, the couple will select lei which have meaning for themselves. One way to have a harmoniouslook, but maintain individuality, is for the bride and groom both to wear lei maile, but to wili (wind) other lei, such as `ilima for the groom and pikake, or tuberose for the bride.

Hawaiian Wedding Music

Music is an integral part of Hawaiian culture, and whether the celebration is an informal ceremony in a family's back yard or a formal ceremony in St Andrew's Catherdral, music will be an important part of a Hawaiian wedding. Traditional songs include Lei Aloha Lei Makamae, E Maliu Mai, and Ke Kali Nei Au. Of course, any song which has special meaning for the bride and groom, Hawaiian or not, should be included! Get to know the different musicians so you can plan your music with someone who understands your ideas. Hawaiian musicians often are booked far in advance, so schedule early.

Many local musicians provide wonderful music for Hawaiian weddings. Manu Josiah, Ben Ka`ili, Braddah Waltah Aipolani, and Keoki Kahumoku all play traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music.

Manu frequently performs with his wife, kumu hula Leilehua Yuen. The couple's repetoir ranges from kahiko (ancient style), to 20th century classics, to 21st century original compositions.

Braddah Waltah Aipolani, in addition to playing more traditional Hawaiian music, is also known as the "Father of Hawaiian Reggae."

`Ohe hano Ihu

A delightful Hawaiian courtship custom dating from ancient times is the playing of the `ohe hano ihu, the Hawaiian nose flute. Originally, the flute would be crafted by a young man and played to court the object of his affections. Today, a number of Hawaiian atrisans make Hawaiian flutes which can be purchased in fine art galleries and on-line. Among them is Manu Josiah, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) musician and artist who performs on Moku Hawai`i.

Selecting a Kahu (Officiant)

Kahu, ministers and wedding officiants, in Hawai`i are available to perform ceremonies ranging from interdenominational or non-sectarian to very traditional ceremonies from virtually any faith you can think of. It is important that your kahu be in tune with your beliefs and needs. Contact different kahu and get to know them before making a final selection.

Kumu Leilehua Yuen is licensed to officiate weddings and civil unions in the state of Hawai`i. She is honored to help couples create a personal ceremony which is a true expression of their unique love for each other. Kumu Leilehua can officiate ceremony in both English and Hawaiian. She may be contacted at, or by telephone at 1-808-895-0850.

Click here for Hawai`i State Government information on Marriages

Click here to read about Kumu Leilehua's first Wedding Ceremony

Article Links

'Ohe hano ihu, the Hawaiian nose flute
The bamboo nose flute is found on many island groups in the Pacific. In Hawai`i, it is considered a sweetheart’s instrument. It is not a loud instrument, rather, the tone is intended to be soft and sweet. Traditionally, it is not played in concert for a large audience, but played in a quiet place for someone special. Read more. . .

Lei Hulu Manu - the precious feather lei of Hawai`i
Lei hulu manu, the feather lei of Hawai`i, are some of the most dramatic lei, and steeped with the history and culture of the royalty of the islands. Birds, endowed with the power of flight, can reach the heavens, and flying high, can see far beyond the human view. And so their feathers, filled with the mana, spiritual strength, of the birds' communion with heaven, were crafted into many items of royal regalia worn, and used by chiefs. Read more. . .

Hawaiian Lei - Garlands of Aloha
Lei are an instantly recognizable symbol of Hawai`i. The wreaths of flowers and foliage worn by both men and women add fragrance and beauty to island life. But lei are more than flowers sewn on a strand. There are lei of seeds, shells, feathers, and even words. A special song composed for a loved one can be a lei. But all of them are a tangible expression of aloha, and as such are given to show love, joy, or sympathy, and as greetings and farewells. Read more. . .

Mele Lei - Celebrating the Hawaiian Lei with Song
For milennia, Hawaiian poetry has celebrated the lei. From ancient chants to modern songs, from poetic metaphors to literal descriptions, the lei has been a popular subject. This fascination with the lei continues today, and even engendered a holiday, Lei Day, to celebrate this delightful part of Hawaiian culture. Read more. . .

Lei Laiki, lei pupu o Ni`ihau

Lei Pūpū o Ni`ihau

At right, a five-strand lei pūpū laiki made up of hundreds of tiny white shells from the island of Ni`ihau.

As prized as a diamond necklace, a lei of pure white laiki shells is a regal adornment for a bride. The most prized for weddings is the laiki ke`oke`o, a pure white shell. It takes years for the bride, her friends, and her `ohana to collect enough for a Ni`ihau-style wedding lei - anywhere from five to twenty five-foot strands worn in cascadiung loops.

In some `ohana, the bride is blessed to be able to include strands which belonged to her kupuna and were passed down from generation to generation.

For those not able to comb the beaches of Ni`ihau and Kaua`i, some Ni`ihau lei makers do make lei for sale. Also, vintage lei are sometimes available in antique shops. The above lei was donated to the Hilo Lei Day Festival, "He Mo`olelo ko ka Lei," by Don Nigro, of Hilo Antiques & Coins at 191 Kīlauea Ave, 1-808-969-1881. The lei is for the use of the Ni`ihau Princess in the Lei Day Royal Court.

Lei hulu - humu papa

Lei Hulu Manu

Some brides choose to wear lei hulu manu. The lei generally either are crafted to go with the wedding gown, or are an heirloom lei passed down from a beloved kupuna.White feather lei po`o (head lei) are lovely worn in place of a veil.

With the many colors in which lei hulu manu can be made, innumerable options are available. The lei can also be made to represent the bride's geneology. In a formal wedding, lei hulu manu, kāhili, and `ahu`ula. Today, the `ahu`ula generally are made from velvet or satin rather than feathers.

When wearing lei hulu, because of the structure of the feathers, these lei tend to "walk" as they are worn. to hold them in place, the ribbon may be pinned into the hair. A lei `a`i (lei worn on the neck) may be pinned through the ribbon to the dress, or even carefully stitched to the gown with matching thread..


Lei PikakeFloral Lei

In general, lighter colored fragrant floral lei, such as pīkake (shown at right), stephanotis, tuberose, baby rose, and mixes of these, are worn by the bride and female members of the wedding party, and darker, heavier lei such as maile, mauna loa, carnation, or cigar flower are worn by the groom and male members. This is not a rule. It simply works out that way because of the colors and styles of most wedding attire, and the tastes of most brides. However, some brides opt for brightly colored lei, and others for the elegant simplicity of lā`ī. The lei should be reflective of the bride and groom, and be as unique as the couple and their special day.


Mele Lei

A song can also be a lei, and a very ancient tradition is to compose, or have a song composed, for the bride and for the groom. These personal songs are special gifts, and considered to be a lei of affectionate words strung on a thread of melody and rhythm. Examples of Mele Lei are the Kimo Henderson Hula, E Maliu Mai, Ka Manu, and Ka Ipo Lei Manu are classic mele lei.

Below, Howard Ai and Natalie Ai Kamauu, Iolani Kamauu and Chad Ai perform a medly of Aloha `Oe and Ka Ipo Lei Manu (video stream glitches included).