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Why does Hawaii have a tradition of giving flower leis?

Ask the Big Kahuna

“Answering the most common visitor questions”


On our recent trip to Hawaii we were greeted at our hotel with lovely, fragrant leis. I know this is a tradition in Hawaii, but why? Just curious.

Los Angeles, CA


Dear Curious Denise,

The custom of presenting a sweetly scented garland of tropical flowers is one of Hawaii’s most endearing expressions of aloha (love). The tradition apparently began when kings and queens ruled the islands. Royalty were greeted with lots of gifts, including flowing necklaces of flowers. The tradition has continued and has become a way of saying aloha to everyone, royalty or not. Lei-making has become quite an art form on the islands and the necklaces are made from incredibly fragrant plumeria blossoms, pikake (a type of jasmine), trailing vines, or rare and very expensive Niihau shells. Niihau leis can cost thousands of dollars, but the flower varieties range from $5 to $35.

Mahalo for writing, Denise. Come back and see us soon.


Big Kahuna