The Pandanus

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

For the year’s end, Hawaiians wore the lei of hala. It is said by the elders that if a lei hala is worn the misfortune of that year passes away. Therefore, the lei hala is a symbol and a protection against evil and misfortune of the past and a good way to start the new year.

Brilliant is the beauty of the red hala, the yellow, and the red fringed hala (yellow at the base, red at the tips) to look at. It is said, “There is no red hala that can be seen at night.” If the fruit ripens and is left above on the tree then its beauty cannot be seen until it gets old and drops. It is better to fetch and split it open to make lei.

According to Hiram Bingham, the making of lei hala was a favorite pastime of Kaʻahumanu. On her visit to Kauaʻi, her love for stringing lei of hala was honored in song. The dancer chanted this line of the name chant: “The wind blossoms in the hala grove of Malelewaa.” Also famous were the hala goves of Naue on Kauaʻi, Kekele on Oʻahu, Weke at Hāna, Nīhoa at Kalaupapa, and “Puna of the fragrant bowers of hala.”

According to archaeologists, the hala fruit floated to Hawaiʻi about 1.2 million years ago without the help of humans. There are fossils of hala fruit on Kauaʻi. However, according to the Pele clan, Pele is the one who established the hala in Hawaiʻi.

Here is the story. Sometime after leaving Borabora in Tahiti, her canoe was caught by an island floating on the ocean. The land of this floating island was held together by the roots of an enormous tree named ʻOhiʻohikupua. The canoe of Pele was caught by this tree – its thorny hooks. Honuaiākea, the canoe, would not budge. Therefore, a rage welled up and Pele tore in pieces the leaves, rootlets, and fruit of the hala. Some pieces flew to Hawaiʻi and those were the progenitors of the hala. Perhaps they are the fossils found on Kauaʻi. Despite Pele’s rage, the canoe was not freed so Kāne poured fresh water upon the thorns and the canoe was released to travel on to Hawaiʻi.

There are traditions to the wearing of lei hala. It is proper to wear the lei upon the completion of something like a school graduation, a ceremonial graduation, or even an anniversary of a person or event.

It is not proper to give a lei hala when starting something like dedicating a new house. The dancer of some hula schools did not wear the hala because of the meaning “to pass away” lest the knowledge of the hula company pass away. Hereʻs an interesting story from Aspects of the Word Lei by Mary Kawena Pukuʻi about the improper giving of the lei hala. At a political rally, a politician was given a lei hala. Alas, his campaign did not go well. His opportunity had passed.

Hula master, Kahaʻi Topolinski, suggests that, if given a lei hala at an inopportune time, take it with the right hand, keep it on the side, and then wear it at the right time.

Don’t forget the wise saying, “There is no red hala that can be seen at night.” Let’s wear the lei of hala again and wear it with the knowledge and appreciation of our kūpuna. Very beautiful is the hala, yes, that is so.