Kauai Leis

According to the reference book Place Names of Hawaii by the famous Hawaii historian Mary Kawena Pukui, there is no known meaning behind the name of Kauai, but ancient Hawaiian lore connects the name’s origin to the legend of Hawaiiloa, the Polynesian navigator attributed with discovering the Hawaiian Islands.  Legend holds that he named the island after a favorite son. Possible meanings for Kauai are “place around the neck” (referencing how a father might carry a favorite child) and “food season.”

While the Hawaii State Flower is the yellow hibiscus, each of the Hawaiian Islands is represented by its own specific product of Nature (flower, plant or shell), and this distinction often takes the form of a lei that is fashioned from the item.

Kauai’s special leis are made from mokihana berries found on a native tree, pelea anisata, which is a member of the Rutaceae (citrus) family. The only place in the world this tree grows is on the slopes of Kauai’s Mt. Waialelae, making it an appropriate choice for Kauai — the Garden Island.

Mokihana berries are a small, leathery, cubed-shaped fruit that have an anise scent. This scent was once a favorite perfume of the ancient Hawaiians, and they would place the twigs and dried berries between the folds of their kapa (tapa) cloth.

Below you can learn the other Hawaiian Islands’ nicknames and what their special leis are made from:

Hawaii – Known as the Big Island, its special flower is the ohi`a lehua, also known as the pua lehua, which is the blossom of the Ohia tree. These blossoms are usually red, but occasionally they are yellow.

Oahu – The Gathering Isle is represented by the ilima flower, from the indigenous dodder shrub (sida fallax) and a close cousin to the hibiscus family.

Maui – The Valley Isle is represented by the pink cottage rose or lokelani.  The lokelani is the only non-native plant to be recognized as the official flower of any of the Hawaiian islands. In the video below, Jesse Tinsley plays a baritone ukulele and sings Pua Tuberose, a classic Hawaiian song.

Molakai – Nicknamed the Friendly Isle, this small island is represented by the pua kukui, commonly known as the candlenut tree (aleurites moluccana).

Lanai – The Pineapple Isle is represented by the kaunaoa, also known as the native dodder (cuscuta sandwichiana). It is a rare species that can be very difficult to find.

Kahoolawe – Nicknamed the Target Isle, the hinahina, or beach heliotrope, represents this island to which travel is restricted, a result of its use by the U.S. military in years past.  Hinahina means “gray or grayish” in Hawaiian, and since this plant resembles Spanish moss, that is often used as a substitute when leis are fashioned to represent this island.

Niihau – This very arid island is represented by a lei made from tiny white shells — called a kahelelani — that are found only on this privately-owned island. They are also referred to as Niihau shells, pupu (meaning “small bit”), and they are sometimes incorrectly called laiki (“rice”) or momi (“pearl”) shells. The latter two, although quite small in their own right, are actually larger shells and can also be found on the island of Kauai. For purposes of comparison, a double-strand kahelani choker requires about 600-700 shells whereas a the same choker would consist of roughly 250 momi shells.

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