Learning how to make a lei po’o on Kauai

Last month hubby and I went to the lovely garden isle of Kauai to attend our friends’ Dallas and Rachelle’s wedding. On our second day there, I saw an article in the local paper about a lei making workshop at the Kauai Museum. It was not your typical needle lei-making class, but rather a 6 hour long affair to learn the wrapping or “wili” method of making a head lei or lei po’o. You know it’s going to be intense when they tell you to bring your own sack lunch!

Master lei maker Kumu Kalei Cadawas began the class with an introduction to some neat Hawaiian chants. Something to sing when you are on the mountain ready to begin collecting the materials for your lei. It is in essence a way to greet Nature and ask for permission to enter the forest and begin collecting leaves and flowers. Kumu (which means “teacher”) Kalei also included an inspirational chant for when you find yourself feeling tired and sluggish from working on the same lei for over 5 hours!
There were about 10 women in the workshop and we sat in the shade of the courtyard of the historical Kauai museum. The sun was shining and there was a slight cool breeze – how wonderful to learn and work with plants and flowers outdoors!

Each student received a lovely parcel of goodies wrapped specially in several ti leaves. 
After untying the piece of raffia at the top, the ti leaves separated and fell down, opening like a blossoming flower to reveal all the ferns and flowers we would be using for our lei po’o. What a delicious surprise! I had never seen this way of packaging before and loved it! We re-used the ti leaf package to hold our leis at the end of class.

Here is a picture of the finished product!

Notice how the inside of the lei is completely covered with ferns making it comfortable to wear – no errant stems sticking you in the head.

After class, I asked Kumu Kalei if it would be appropriate to wear the lei I just made to Dallas and Rachelle’s wedding. He replied that it was very much appropriate indeed. In fact, giving the gift of lei is very special and is a gift of the heart. I considered giving the lei to the bride and groom, but I only had one to give and suspected they probably had their own leis specially prepared for the wedding. So I wore the head lei to the wedding (to poor hubby’s embarrassment!) which was a lot of fun. After the ceremony, I gave it to Dallas and he wore it for their after wedding pictures and almost the entire rest of the evening. He got a little too sweaty with it on after he started to boogie.