Last week a very interesting and poignant article was written by Tom Furley for Radio New Zealand about how a Hawaiian delegation had gifted a mile-long lei to the city of Christchurch in the wake of the terrorist attack.
Almost 8000 kilometers from home, the six delegates from Hawaii stood in front of four plastic bins on the border of Hagley Park – directly opposite Al Noor Mosque where 42 people were killed. Inside the bins sat eight sections of lei – one for each mosque, the hospital, police, St John ambulance, Victim Support, Ngai Tahu, and one for the city of Christchurch.
The gesture began after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, and has been repeated following other tragedies like the Parkland and Las Vegas shootings.
Lei of Aloha for World Peace delegate Robert DeVinck said it took 300 volunteers three days to weave together 14 truckloads of ti leaves. “These tragic situations, people need hugs around the world and a reminder that after seeing the face of evil, seeing hatred in such fashion, they need to be reminded that the majority of the world wants to do something to comfort them, to bring love and peace to them. Most people understand a lei is usually a ring of flowers, usually very fragrant flowers like tuber roses that you give to someone as a greeting, as a sign of love,” he said.
After being presented, the lei was held above waist height in the hands of the Muslim community, including Muslim Association of Canterbury president Shagaf Khan, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, representatives from Ngai Tahu, emergency services, as well as members of the public there to watch.
“During the time they’re weaving this, they’re giving their mana, their spirit and their love into this lei,” Mr DeVinck said. “So as I was holding it just now I was thinking of all the volunteers that have brought their mana, their love and their compassion in that lei from the island where I live.”
St John District operations manager Wally Mitchell stood holding the lei alongside his ambulance and police colleagues. “It’s very moving to be given the opportunity to be a part of this coming together of people, not just from around the country, but around the world. It’s a show of love and connection that’s second to none – I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that. Definitely not in New Zealand previously.”
A little about leis…
Leis are traditional Hawaiian flower necklaces given as a sign of welcoming and to show affection. Hawaiian flower leis are made of beautiful and colorful blossoms found in Hawaii. Green Maile Ti Leaf Leis – Ti Leaf Leis symbolize admiration, appreciation and respect. Ti leaf leis are often used as gifts for weddings, graduations, anniversaries and memorials.
The lei-giving custom was first observed by Captain Cook in 1779, though this tradition is believed to date back to at least several centuries before this sighting. Originally, the design and wearing of a lei was meant to symbolize the wearer’s social rank, which was reflected in both the type of flower used and how the lei was woven. Today, leis are frequently worn by Hawaii’s most important public figures, such as the governor, particularly for important public appearances and on holidays.
Leis are a popular Hawaiian gift not only for special occasions but also as a symbol of respect, love, welcoming, or appreciation. Though lei ceremonies have typically been reserved for important occasions, today leis can represent many different meanings, and are seen at nearly every public gathering, for nearly any reason, throughout the islands. Many visitors even receive a lei when they arrive to Hawaii on vacation. They are said to represent the “spirit of aloha,” which can mean several different feelings, including a greeting, farewell, hope, joy, or love. A lei created from beautiful flowers is meant to represent a non-verbal expression of aloha.