Furthering Your Education Utilizing the Hawaiian Lei

As you probably have seen through previous articles on this site, the Hawaiian lei is more than just something to “fling around” or put on just anyone. I understand that sometimes, especially during times of celebration, this might occur. But the significance goes much further and deeper to the native Hawaiian.

Understanding is the Key

Often, understanding is the big problem that crushes relationships, especially when it comes to cross-cultural relationships. Beliefs are paramount, and I definitely understand that if my beliefs about God, salvation and life principles differ significantly from another person’s or people group’s, I will not be able to cultivate long term and fruitful relationships with them (unless they adopt these beliefs!)

But so often, this is not the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. Often, rejection of the other’s family or friends, or problems in communication, destroy the relationship. Culture and customs have a great deal to do with it. I know in my own marriage, my wife puts great emphasis on holidays, birthdays, etc. while I do not. This creates strains in the relationship, and I have to understand and bridge the gap to her on this issue.

Culture is Often A Source of Great Misunderstanding

So if you want to build lasting relationships, you must become a learner. You must be willing to study those that you want to have closer relationships with, and meet them in the middle. Again, I am not saying that you comprise right beliefs, but on matters of culture, practice, etc. there is much opportunity for understanding and compromise.

The Hawaiian lei is one of those cultural things. Some may scoff at it, but to the Hawaiian, it is an important part of their culture. These things cannot be minimized or trivialized. Understanding and acceptance of these things will go a long, long way to building strong and lasting relationships with the Hawaiian people.

Have you seen or read any studies or books on cross cultural issues? Higher education has much to say about it. There are even dissertation coaching services out there that help doctoral candidates in these types of studies. The point is, while language is the first and most important aspect of cross cultural interaction, the culture and thought processes of the people are of extreme significance.

So use the simple example of the Hawaiian lei to help you as you interact with those of other cultures. Learn about their culture, and even if you are just staying for a short time, you never know who you might meet!

Why is the Hawaiian Lei Important?

As I eluded to before, the Hawaiian lei is a product of the cultural of the Hawaiian people. The natives are of Polynesian descent, and highly value their personal relationships. Family and friends are very important them.

A Quick Word on Eastern People Groups and Their Culture

Having lived in Thailand for nearly a year, I have seen, first hand, how the eastern people interact. They are sensitive, and they don’t like to be negative. For example, in the Thai language, they don’t even have a word for “no”. All you can say is “not yes”.

Eastern people like to do things as a group, and often when they are eating, they eat “family style”, in that they place a bunch food in the middle of the table and everyone grabs things to eat. This extends into eating out, as opposed to the western style of ordering separate plates for each person at the table.

The Specific Significance of the Hawaiian Lei

Unfortunately, the lei does have spiritual significance. The use of lei, at least in times past, played a role in ceremony/worship of ancient gods. While I fully reject this aspect of the lei, in modern times, it is mostly a symbol of affection, a symbol of family and its relationship.

The concept of the Hawaiian lei stems from this cultural approach. The Hawaiian people are friendly, and they want you to know that you are welcome. But they go beyond a simple hello and/or handshake, and often give guests the lei.

If you do receive one, you should feel honored. While some may give them to spur business, the heart of the Hawaiian wants to be friendly. So don’t be quick to reject it, as this can really be an emotional hurt to the people. So if you go to Hawaii, have fun, and if you receive a lei, it’s a two-fold blessing!

What is a Hawaiian Lei?

The traditional Hawaiian people are Polynesian in ancestry. Polynesians are group oriented people, and having a focus on family. So when times of celebration come around, they like to focus on them. Hence, the Hawaiian lei was birthed.

In the simplest terms, a lei is a garland or wreath. As it pertains to the Hawaiian lei, it is a wreath of flowers given to someone entering or leaving as a sign of affection. Again, as with most eastern people groups, they have a deeper bond between each other, and a focus on people and relationships as opposed to the western concept of “getting the job done”. This does not mean that they don’t work, but they value personal relationships.

Many Hawaiian leis are absolutely beautiful. Most commonly, the plumerias, tuberose, orchids, carnations and pikake (Arabian Jasmine) are the flowers used in composing a lei. Not only do these flowers look stunning, but they also smell great. Leis can be made of other things, such as sea shells, but typically flowers are used.

Have you ever been to Hawaii? Have you been given a lei? Hawaii is so beautiful, and with such a rich history, it is definitely worth a visit. With the gorgeous beaches and clear water, what an adventure it would be to go fishing off their shores! And what about the food and accommodations? Then, of course, there is the people and their friendliness. It’s truly a cool place to visit or vacation at for a while.

If you have your own story to tell, please do in the comments section at the bottom of this page. Your experience, whether great or small, can benefit others. So feel free to share your stories, thoughts and ideas below!