• Mary

'Ka Lei - The Leis of Hawaii' by Marie MacDonald


Ka Lei - The Leis of Hawaii Book
My copy of 'Ka Lei' lovingly worn and passed down from my mother.

Growing up on Kauai, I learned the basic styles of traditional Hawaiian lei making from my maternal grandparents. They taught me the methods of kui (strung) and wili (wound around a base) all using whatever materials were available in their yard. My grandmother maintained the flowers and foliage grown by her mother, while my grandfather always had boughs of hau ready for my wili lei. As my skill increased so did my desire to use materials beyond my immediate environment. I would spend hours flipping through the pages of my mother's copy of Marie MacDonald's book 'Ka Lei' and dreaming. This book was, and still is, the definitive book on lei making. And, of course, I idolized the author herself.


I had met Mrs. MacDonald, with my mother, on several occasions growing up. I once was allowed to help her decorate for an event on the Big Island when I was about sixteen. I followed her around starstruck, hanging on her every word. When I graduated from high school all I wanted was one of her lei. My parents ordered one from her and had it flown to Honolulu from the Big Island. It was a beautiful neck lei made in the wili style which I wore with such pride.


Many years later, as an adult, I was in Waimea with my family when we made an impromptu stop at the home of Mrs. MacDonald. While touring her kapa workshop, I was telling her of my difficulty finding anyone to teach me the haku (braided with material) or humupapa (sewn onto a backing) methods of lei making. She promptly marched me into her yard, had me pick material and gave me a lesson.


Although my personal interactions with her were few, and I have learned from others over the years, she will always be the biggest influence on me as a lei maker. Her book, 'Ka Lei', is still where I go for reference or ideas. I am grateful she was both a traditional Hawaiian artist and educator whose legacy continues for all of us.




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