Experiencing the real Hawaii. That’s what Travaasa Hana is all about. Our guests are introduced to the art and history of lei making at all times during the year. But in May, Hawaii’s traditional gift of welcome and aloha truly take center stage.

Lei Day – May first – became an official holiday in 1929. It was invented by Don Blanding, who is considered by many to be the poet laureate of Hawaii. He wanted to create a uniquely Hawaiian event that celebrated the culture and beauty of the islands. Lei Day celebrations continue today, marking the first day of May with lei-making competitions, concerts, and the giving and receiving of lei among friends and family.

“It is really a big deal all over the islands,” says Hoku Tolentino, programs manager at Travaasa Hana. “All the schools elect a king and queen and princes and princesses to represent each island. They put on special lei and the ‘Royal Court’ parade in their costumes, and each class does a performance with costumes and traditional dance.”

The special lei are made specifically for each role with the king and queen having striking red lei from ohia lehua and each individual island constructed from flowers or shells that are harvested from each island. From the pink lokelani from Maui, to the orange kaunaoa from Lanai, or even the tiny white pupu (shells) o Niihau gathered on the island for which they are named, the lei mimic the beautiful rainbows that grace the islands.

“In the community there’s always a big party with lots of food and a contest for the best lei. They are so elaborate and beautiful,” says Hoku. “The winners are selected by a board. You can imagine how big a deal it is here in Hana.”

“The traditional art of lei making, started with feathers, since there weren’t that many plants on Hawaii when the first settlers came to the islands. The royalty, or alii, wore lei, cloaks, helmets and kahili (feathered pole) as symbols of power and wealth. Yellow feathers from the oo and red feathers from the iiwi and apapane were plucked from the birds that were captured using sticky sap made from the breadfruit (ulu) tree. There was a special person in each clan, the Kiamanu, who would capture the birds, harvest a few feathers, and then set them free again. You can imagine how many birds they’d have to catch to make a cape.”

At Travaasa Hana, we’re celebrating Lei Day with special lei making classes, including one where guests will learn the art of making feather lei and hair ornaments. Join us for this fascinating, and beautiful, slice of traditional Hawaiian culture.