From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lei Day: Hawaiian gods remembered

Ohia Lehua (Public Domain)
In her article The Hawaiian Lei, Veronica Schweitzer
tells us that people the world over have decorated with
leis since ancient times.  However, the practice uniquely
developed in Hawaii because of its traditional isolation,
and because of its "abundance of blossoms, beads, and

Leis began being associated with life's profound moments early on.  Schweitzer tells us that there "are leis for political, community, social, personal, farming, and religious ceremony."  She explains that these ceremonies tended to overlap in old Hawaii, and that they "all belonged to a people united by a deep-rooted belief in their gods."

Two such deities are the goddesses Pele and her sister Hi'iaka.  They are honored by the lehua flower (ohia lehua), which is described as "the tragic fire flower" of these sisters.  Sacred Texts tells us that Pele was expelled from her original home and wandered from island to island seeking shelter for her family.  Having fallen deeply in love with a chief of Kauai, she chose a crater on Hawaii, and settled there along with her brothers and little sister Hi'iaka.

Ever the fiery spirit, Pele then sent Hi'iaka to fetch the chief and bring him back to her.  Her passion became a burning jealousy when Hi'iaka betrayed Pele by romancing the chief.  Schweitzer now warns:  Even today, one shouldn't pick the lehua flower on the way to the volcano, Pele's home.  The results could be disastrous…

The maile leaf lei has been particularly associated with the gods of hula.  Maile is said to have "many siblings, with different shaped leaves and traditions."  Hawaiian legend tells us that there was "a greedy maile, a brittle maile, a luxuriant maile, and a sweetly scented maile."  When they weren't able to assist their demi-god brother in his ardent pursuit of a chiefess, he abandoned them within the forest.      


Copyright May 1, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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