The fresh flower lei are probably one of the most definitive of all Hawaiian icons. From the feather lei of royalty seen around Elvis during that popular filmed Hawaii concert in the seventies, to the bold fresh red carnation lei presented to Johnny Carson by Bette Midler as a farewell expression on his last night as host of the Tonight Show and even to the wonderfully cool fresh and fragrant leis that are presented to hundreds of arriving passengers at airports throughout Hawaii. Leis traditionally express love, reverent, respect congratulations and welcome.
There are about as many leis as there is a reason to give one. Ancient Hawaiians used braided human hair, bird feathers, shells and dogteeth, but versions that are more modern include a vast assortment of fresh flowers, foliage and more. The more popular flowers are the Awapuhi or white ginger. This flower is shaped like a delicate butterfly. Very fragrant and very delicate, you can find these leis done in a sewn or braided Micronesian style. Another very popular flower for lei making is the dendrobium or Hono Hono orchids. Small and hearty, these flowers come in array of colors from blue, to fuschia to purple and yellow from hothouses all over the Big Island of Hawaii or the Orchid Isle.
There are several methods in which to create a lei. The easiest and simplest is the kui method. It requires about 40-50 fresh flowers, a length of cotton or other soft durable string, a lei needle which is a twelve-inch of needle wire with a small hook on one end. Simply string the flowers gently onto the string. When enough flowers have been added to a desirable length, simply tie the string off and add a colorful ribbon.
When presenting leis, it is important to remember that a kiss on the cheek is appropriate and expected. It is also important to remember to avoid presenting ti-leaf leis to politicians since it believed that it is a bad omen. History and folklore also warns about presenting leis to pregnant women. It is believed that such a thing jeopardizes the health of the unborn baby.