It’s a wonderful tradition in the islands of Hawaii to greet visitors with a heartfelt “Aloha,” which, in Hawaiian, means “affection, peace, compassion and mercy,” while adorning them with a bright, colorful lei – a garland of fresh, fragrant flowers native to the islands. This, then, was my first impression of Hawaii, when I was nine years old.
Naturally, I wanted to capture and hold onto this feeling of aloha – so I came back to the mainland with a sparse grass skirt, a floral bikini top, and a plastic flower lei. I added a strand or two of puka shells. Still, I wanted more authenticity. Dancing barefoot in our back yard, I saw some long strands of grass near the lilac trees. One thought led to another, and I was soon gathering flowers and leaves to make a more authentic island lei. Ohio is not known for orchids, white ginger, plumeria, pikake, and kukui nuts. But I found the most marvelous shiny green leaves, supple and slightly tinted red, as if they were blushing in the sun. They came in in clusters of my favorite number: three.
It was a learning experience. I don’t recommend amateur, do-it-yourself leis. You are much better off flying to Hawaii – or ordering fresh flower leis shipped to you from Aloha Island Lei. This is the next best thing to being there. Leis are used, in the islands, to mark all major life events – from simple greetings of love and welcome, to births and weddings, graduations, official ceremonies, and even death. This is just one – no, scratch that, TWO! – of the beautiful leis made by the folks at Aloha Island Leis – the box arrived on my doorstep this morning:
According to legend, if you toss your lei into the ocean upon departing, and it floats back to shore, you will some day return to the islands. I wish someone had told me that bit of lore! I have visited the islands three times – almost went to college there, but chose at the last minute not to go. Had I gone, in my Junior year, I would not have met my husband. Return can wait a bit. Leis are symbols of love, and they tell many tales. I remember being captivated by Hawaiian legends, particularly those surrounding the goddess, Pele. You can read some of the stories about Pele here.
It is considered disrespectful to toss your lei into the trash; instead, it should be given back to the earth. We got a lime tree this past weekend; I think that when the time comes, I will share my lei with it by hanging it in the tree’s branches, or wrapping it loosely around the trunk.
So how did all this come about, anyway? I got an email, last week; the subject line was, “Can I send you a Hawaiian Lei?”
As a blogger, I’m a little wary of unsolicited offers from numbered GMail accounts. I was tempted to write back, “Do I look like I need to get leid?” I told my husband some stranger on the Internet wanted to, well…
“–send you flowers from Hawaii?” he said, laughing.
I glared at him.
After checking out the company and contacting them directly, to be sure that the offer was legit, I accepted it and sent them my mailing address. Fresh flowers all the way from Hawaii… and just a “short review” in return. (“Short review”? They don’t know me very well, that’s obvious. Or maybe not so obvious… wait till you see what they sent!)
Really, after a week like last week, I have to admit that I needed a good lei. Yes, that’s my car – or what’s left of it. I needed a little extra pampering, this week. But if I close my eyes and surround myself with fresh, exotic island flowers, I can go to my mental happy place and let Pele swallow up careless drivers… no, I mean, I can lose myself in the sweet scent of nature…
I was not expecting to receive two leis. The smaller, white strand is Tuberose, and it filled the house with its sweet scent the minute I opened the box. The larger one is purple orchids – it looks like the lovely “BOM Triple” – I think I’m going to have to make Aloha Island Lei an honorary member of Team Purple Feather Boa! Seriously, I may have to indulge in flowers for myself more often.
And no, I’m not going to sing, dance, or eat my orchids, Christopher Ford… but in tribute to other forms of storytelling, I leave you with this – the love story of Hi’ilawe – something I think you’ll enjoy more than any feeble attempts by me to sing or dance: