There are travel moments that really stick and make you feel all gooey inside. I had two of those moments in the past 48 hours at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki and incredibly, they were both FREE.
I got to make a Lei (fresh flower necklace) with Alexandria Byous, third generation Lei maker and daughter of the owner of the oldest lei stand in Waikiki, operating since 1928: Aunty Bella’s.
Little did I know when I showed up for the class that I would also get a lesson about the Hawaiian culture and be showered with hugs and kisses from the teacher herself.
In Alexandria’s instruction, she goes deep into the meaning of Lei and Lei Making, the history of the flowers, the islands and proper care and usage of the necklace. It’s impossible to leave the class without a deeper appreciation for Hawaiian culture and without feeling the warmth of the Hawaiian people.
Here are the basics of Lei and the mistakes I made with my first one that let every Hawaiian know I was a tourist:
- Lei is a symbol of love and affection and as such should never be thrown in the trash- a big mistake I made the first time I came to Hawaii, that I now regret deeply.
- At tribal times, each island had a princess, who was known for a specific flower. The orange one is from Oahu and it’s found in Waimanalo.
- A Lei lasts about 3 days if you store it in the fridge with a couple of droplets of water in a plastic bag (make sure to create a bubble of air around it and open and recapture air every 8 hrs)- I clearly did not do know this and so my first Lei didn’t last as long.
- To dry your Lei, just hang it on a mirror or clothes hanger until fully dry if you wish to keep it.
- The proper way of disposing of a Lei is to give it back to nature. You can let it float it in the ocean at sunset, Pearl Harbor or hang it on a tree. Just make sure the string is made of organic material before disposing of it in the ocean so Turtles and other sea life don’t get tangled in it. It’s even better to cut the string and float just the flowers. Consider it a gift to mermaids…
- A Lei is worn both by men and women in the Hawaiian culture and it’s worn around the neck for women without it hanging down, on the forehead or around the crown. Men wear it hanging down.
- You can take Lei back home with you to most places. Some places do not allow it such as Australia and Tahiti, so check out customs’ rules before purchasing as a gift to take back.
- Lastly, in Hawaii you get Lei’d on your birthday and anniversary and that is always a rule of thumb!
If you visit Waikiki, don’t forget to stop by the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and take the Lei making class. Not only will you leave with more knowledge, you also get to keep your Lei, for FREE!
Also, consider buying a Lei from Aunty Bella’s. As the oldest Lei stand in Waikiki, the business is currently facing challenges keeping up with rent hikes.
Lastly, arrive early to grab your seat, 30-45 mins in advance. Only 25 people are accepted per class, no exceptions.