Pupu o Ni'ihau


Today was May Day, better known as Lei Day in Hawaii. The schools always have pageants and the children perform a hula or song for their ohana, usually decked out in their flower leis. It is sooo sweet, and I always looked forward to it when my keiki were young.

Today's post is in celebration of another sort of lei. Instead of flowers, these leis are made of gifts from the sea. The breathtaking shell lei are strung with tiny gems washed up on the shores of Ni'ihau and Kauai. The debris line during the winter months is scattered with the shells . Pickers spend many hours picking shells with tweezers, often lying in the sand to be close enough to better see the tiny gems. Many hours in the sun can yield a film canister of shells.

Once the shells are gathered, they are sorted into shell types, sizes and colors, discarding any flawed shells. Removing grains of sand from inside the shells is a delicate process and has to be successfully accomplished in order to pierce the hole for stringing. A stainless steel awl that is sharpened often is used to create the puka (hole). Depending on the lei style, the shell is pierced in a particular place. I've read that an average of one out of three shells break during this process.

There are several styles of leis, some strung in patterns similar to flowers, some strung singly and wound around a cloth foundation, some sewn in layers on cloth in the style of feather hat bands. Whatever the style, the love and patience of this art form is a way of life, a spiritual practice.

I am fortunate to have multi-strand Kahelelani lei from the 1950s. This fuzzy shot posted is a picture I took through a magnifying glass of my necklace. I thought it might be fun to try and see the detail of the colors and patterns on the shells. These are the smallest turban shells, measuring 3-5 mm. Kahelelani are the most tedious to collect, sort, pierce and string, and the most expensive. I have been thinking about having my lei re-strung, and began researching possibilities. A wonderful site I discovered belongs to a talented couple, a photographer Lisa Seed, and a lei maker Rob Arita. Their Hawaiian Lei web site is an oddessy of beauty. Rob's striking leis are filled with aloha, start to finish. Lisa's photographs capture the beauty of these gifts from the sea. I am posting two of Lisa's photos today. Her shots are the obvious clear and professional photos. You are invited to visit their site, perhaps choose a piece of jewelry.....it will be an heirloom to cherish.

I hope you've enjoyed this story, and if you are blessed with a special piece of Ni'ihau jewelry, it also has been on an amazing journey....wear it well and with aloha.

Happy Lei Day!
A hui hou,

Mixed Bag


This post is a mixed bag, reflecting life on the island this last week.

A tsunami will grab everybody's attention, and it did. My phone rang at 4 am, my mainland guests, do love 'em, called to warn me about a monster size tsunami that was heading accross the ocean towards our island home. The last tsunami in 1960 was big after being generated by a smaller quake than had just happened. All this woke me up rather quickly. The phone rang again shortly after and it was some folks evacuating from the beach area looking for a room. OK, no going back to sleep now. Might as well gas up and hit the grocery store. I beat most of the crowd to gas, but the grocery store was another thing. People in Hawaii are pretty serious about food, food and beer. I have never seen so many people in line in a grocery store, ever. Ice was melting in the long lines, dripping water accross the crowded floors. Big bags of white rice, toliet paper, Hawaiian currency, and "choke beer" was the order of the day. True to form, the day turned into a great big island wide picnic. Of course, everybody headed for the hills, making upcountry a popular place to be on Tsunami Day. Luckily for all of us, that is all the day turned out to be, a big picnic. Our island community was "on it," well prepared, our officals did their job, the tsunami sirens blared like clock work, and it was a well ordered, sunny and beautiful, crazy day.

The photos I'm posting today were taken by a wonderful German couple on their honeymoon during the mixed bag week. Julia and Jorg sent me a couple of shots from their Maui trip. If you look closely at the jungle shot, you will see a mongoose standing. It's a great shot that was taken at the Wainapanapa State Park out in Hana. This beautiful Hawaiian word means "glistening waters." It is a black sand beach with lots of jungle bush surrounding the park. The curious mongoose is ever present out in the jungle areas. The funny story about the mongoose is that they were imported to Hawaii to take care of the rat problem. I guess not alot of research went into this decision as one sleeps during the day, and the other at night. Not much opportunity for battles.

Moving on, Jorg is standing next to a giant guitar at Charley's in Paia. He was very impressed with the size and quality of this beautiful guitar. Charley's resturant is a bit of an icon in Paia town. It has grown over the years to a gathering place for some good music, and when you want an ono cooked breakfast, they are always a good and friendly place to stop in.

The last photo is of lovely Julia in the garden of Hale Ho'okipa wearing the gorgeous orchid lei that I gave her at breakfast. A friend had given it to me, and when I remembered that they were on their honeymoon, I gifted it to Julia. It looked stunning on her. The orchid petals are folded so that create a boxy look. This lei is unique and impressive, as many of our Hawaiian lei are. What an art lei making is!

Thanks for the photos, folks, it was great to meet you, and mahalo for your company during our rather wild week.

Much Aloha,