See item in our catalogue

Lei – Floral garland


A set of colourful lei garlands, made of plastic and fabric flowers.

Cultural notes

Lei is a garland or wreath. The most popular concept of a lei in Hawaiian culture is a wreath of flowers presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection. This concept was popularized through tourism between the Hawaiian Islands and the continental United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A lei can be given to someone for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, these reasons include peace, love, honor, or friendship for another person. Common events during which leis may be distributed include graduations, weddings, and school dances. 

lei may be composed of a pattern or series of just about anything, but most commonly consists of fresh natural foliage such as flowers, leaves, vines, fern fronds, and seeds. Other types of lei may include sea or land shells, fish teeth, bones, feathers, plastic flowers, fabric, paper (including origami and monetary bills), candy, or anything that can be strung together in a series or pattern and worn as a wreath or a necklace.

Leis were originally worn by ancient Polynesians and some Asian people as part of custom. They were often used by Native Hawaiians to signify their ranks and royalty. They are also worn as a form of honor to each other and their gods. Native Hawaiians, who are Polynesian, brought the tradition of lei making and wearing with them to the Hawaiian islands when they arrived. On the first of every May, an event called Lei Day is celebrated to honor the act of lei making and the custom surrounding it.

Traditional Hawaiian Clothing

Malo: Hawaiian men used to wear loin-cloths called “malo”. It is tied differently from the African loin-cloths, with the fabric being passed between the legs and tied so that there is a flap at the front and at the back. Today malo is also used by locals sometimes, especially during the tribal festivals and other traditional ceremonial events. But most men replaced malo with modern boardshorts – knee-length nylon or polyester shorts.

Aloha Shirt: A traditional Hawaiian shirt or “aloha shirt” serves as an upper garment. This piece of clothing was forced on Hawaiians by the missioners years ago. But locals got used to it, improved it to their taste, and now consider it a part of their traditional costume. Such shirts are used by males in everyday life. They’re made from cotton, polyester, or silk. Aloha shirts are often adorned with floral patterns (which are typical for Hawaii), animal patterns, and tropical designs. They are very colorful and bright. The sleeves of a Hawaiian shirt are usually short.

MuuMuu: Hawaiian female garment similar to men’s aloha shirt is called “muumuu”. It is a long, short-sleeved, and loose-fitting dress. Muumuu is made from natural materials (cotton, silk, etc.) or synthetic fabrics like polyester. It is richly embellished with floral patterns. This piece is very popular among Hawaiian women.

Hula Costume: Another traditional garment of females in Hawaii is a hula costume. Historically it consisted of a lei, a grass skirt, and ankle bracelets. This dress was used during the hula dance, the traditional Hawaiian dance. This dance was a way of glorifying gods and transferring the traditional stories, legends, and true facts to the next generation.  Though, today the costume used by hula dancers is a little different. Women use long fabric skirts or muumuu dresses while men wear trousers and a malo on top. Sometimes grass skirts are still worn but on top of a fabric garment.

Suggested activities

Music and Movement:

  • Learn some basic Hula Dance moves through sharing Youtube videos with the children. The Basic Hula: Hip Movements & Basic Foot Steps video is an easy to follow instructional video, suitable for teaching these movements to children.
  • Borrowing a range of grass skirts, allow children to explore the movement of the skirts as they dance to the sounds of Music of Hawaii
  • Borrow some ukuleles. Discuss the similarities and differences between a guitar and a ukulele. Provide ukuleles as a resource for the children along with traditional Hawaiian clothing

Art & Craft: 

  • Create your own lei‘s, by threading string through the centre of cupcake liners and straws. The instructions show the cupcake liners being trimmed in to flower shapes, however this would still be very effective without this step for younger children.

External Links

Related items in our catalogue

The research for this resource was made possible through a grant from the Central Coast Council.