“Oh, that plumeria lei smells good,” said the mainland tourist. “Tuberose,” said the native Hawaiian woman, one of the most scented fragrant flowers on the islands and so beautiful too. Within minutes of wearing my tuberose lei, the sweet and lingering fragrance brought lots of attention to the delicate white flowers perfectly strung together.
Lei are known for happy occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and other special celebrations. They are also used for traditional ceremonies, lifting the spirits of both the recipients and those around them.
Located in the historic Chinatown section of Honolulu on Maunakea Street, are many shops making and selling lei and keeping the island traditional alive.
In a small alcove, in the block between Hotel and King Streets, is Lin’s Lei shop and the activity outside is swarming with customers. A young man stood behind a small wooden table selling lei in various styles to both walk up customers and those who had called in orders. The refrigerator cases facing the street were stocked with purple, yellow, white and red floral leis arranged in containers or hanging from hooks. Some were a single strand and some were the more elaborate lei with double or triple stands of fresh flowers.
Loretta Le told me her family has owned the shop for 35 years and the entire family participates in all the aspects of running the business. A large table immediately behind the narrow doorway had four women quietly making leis. One woman used her hands to clean each flower shedding its outer layers getting it ready for stringing. The other women working in stages and also using their bare hands, prepared mounds of delicate flowers soon to become finished lei. A single strand lei takes nearly 60 groomed flowers and a double strand takes 140 prepared flowers. The women are so proficient from beginning to end, it takes 3 minutes to make one single strand lei and they make 100’s a day. White plumeria with yellow centers are the best known Hawaiian lei flower, but tuberose is the most common, probably because of its lovely fragrance.
The beautiful and graceful lei never go out of style, invoking emotions and smiles, part of the true Hawaiian legacy of aloha.