Whether it’s the aroma of freshly picked leis, or the sounds of conch shells blowing in the ocean wind, it’s easy to see why Hawai’i is such a popular wedding destination.
Still, Hawai’i is more than just this foreign backdrop. As somebody whose familial roots far precede its statehood—and are non-indigenous to the archipelago—it’s important to me to honor and respect these traditional practices of the people who gave my family a home.
Beyond the dramatized hula dancing and tiki torches, here are five wedding traditions that you may experience at a Native Hawaiian wedding.
Blowing of The Pū
The blowing of the conch shell (known in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i as the “pū”) was used previously to signify the arrival of ali’i (Hawaiian nobles). Nowadays, the blowing of the pū calls attention towards any gathering or significant event.
While there is no definitive time during a wedding that the pū will be blown, it is most commonly used in the beginning as a way to both alert passerbys of the date’s importance, while also bringing the guests into a state of mindful reflection.
Whereas many Western weddings are officiated by a minister, Hawaiian weddings are led by a Kahu. This spiritual caretaker will guide every attendee through the wedding, usually starting the ceremonies with the chanting of Oli Aloha.
This chant offers a word of greeting, and prepares the space for religious blessing. The entire chant is in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, though in English reads in part:
“This is the sight for which I have longed. Now that you have come, love has come with you.”
In Hawai’i, the lei represents aloha, and in a Native Hawaiian wedding it is tradition for the bride and groom to exchange specific leis.
The bride will often be gifted a pikake lei (Arabian Jasmine), crafted from flowers that symbolize love and romance. As one could imagine Arabian Jasmine is not indigenous to Hawai’i, though it has become a staple in Hawaiian weddings as the flower was a favorite of Princess Ka’iulani.
Grooms will often be donned with a maile lei, also known as “The Lei of Royalty.” Contrary to pikake, maile dates back centuries in Native Hawaiian culture and is commonly associated with Laka, the goddess of hula. Once the bride wraps maile around the groom’s shoulders, he becomes the physical embodiment of devotion and peace.
Pili ā Nai Kealoha
Pili ā nai kealoha directly translates to “love that binds.” In this tradition, the Kahu will tie the couple’s hands together with maile and chant an accompanying oli. The maile here is crafted by entwining separate vines together, representing the two unique identities becoming unified in a marriage.
He alo ā he alo
The term “aloha” is probably the most commonly associated word with Hawai’i, but how many non-Natives actually know what it means? The word originates from “alo” meaning person, and “ha” meaning breath.
While most weddings culminate with a kiss, Native Hawaiian wedding ceremonies finish with he alo ā he alo (face-to-face). This tradition marks the sharing of aloha and has the bride and groom press their foreheads together, sharing their first breath as a wedded couple.
Although westernization has made it difficult not to view Hawai’i through a romanticized lens, it’s important when attending any Native Hawaiian event to understand the meaning behind these indigenous traditions that lend to such beauty.
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