In Hawaii, the placing of a lei over the head and around the shoulders of a person exemplifies the bestowing of honor and respect, and also the spirit of aloha. According to Hawaiian tradition, the maile was the lei for people of all classes and all occasions. The maile is a long-lasting lei and probably the oldest and most popular material used in leis by the early Hawaiians. It is an open-ended horseshoe fashion lei made of the spicy scented green maile stems and leaves.
The native Hawaiian vine, with shiny fragrant leaves, is a member of the periwinkle family and is also associated with Laka, the goddess of Hula. Maile along with other plants of the native forest was considered sacred to Laka and was offered at her altar at hula dance practices and shows. In ancient Hawaii, the maile was also considered a peace offering in the field of battle.
When It’s Used
The maile is most often reserved for memorable occasions. It is known to many as the “lei of royalty,” given to signify respect and honor. The maile is very popular at weddings, graduations and especially proms. On the US mainland, young men usually receive a boutonniere from their prom dates. In Hawaii, they are presented with a maile lei. Wedding leis are a Hawaiian wedding tradition. The maile is the most traditional wedding lei, as it was used by the Kahuna (Hawaiian priest) in old Hawaii to bind the hands of the bride and groom, symbolizing their commitment to each other.
The maile lei can also be used for other purposes. Some people dry the lei and use it to scent their drawers, closets, tapa (bark cloth), etc. Lei stands entwine the maile lei with a variety of flowers such as pikake, ilima or mokihana berries.
The maile lei is noted for its rarity and considered by many to be the finest of all leis. Prices range from $30 and up. So place your orders early!