Memories of Lei

Puakenikeni Lei and Seashells
" My favorite flower and lei will always be a puakenikeni."
Sarah Malia Ikehara

I had time on my hands one day and I thought-- "CONTEST!!!" So I asked my Facebook followers to tell me about their favorite lei. I'd send the winner a signed, matted, 12x8 print of the image you see below, "Plumeria Profusion." 

Plumeria Profusion by Jade Moon


I was touched and a little overwhelmed by some of your responses. 

Laura Sage-Blair wrote:

"I grew up on Oahu as an Air Force brat. The lei stands at the airport were so beautiful as well. When my parents received leis I couldn't wait to wear them to school the next day! We also had one pink and one white plumeria plant in the front yard. If we got too many Mainland visitors too close together we'd definitely have to visit the lei stand before their arrival. Amazing sensory memories!"

Robin Anderson shared a beautiful memory:

"My favorite lei is the one I was given by my 9-year-old autistic granddaughter. My dream for 40 years has been to visit Hawaii. I have told Bella many times how much I would love to go to Hawaii and take her with me. For her birthday, she chose to have a Hawaiian luau theme party! She had leis for everyone who came to her party. She put my lei around my neck and said, I love you Oma, welcome to our Hawaii. She even danced her version of the hula. I have kept that lei and it means the world to me."

Robin, I'm sure you'll make it to Hawaii one day. And you will wear a sweet-smelling lei. 

So many stories from people who've been touched by aloha!

Anne Deschene wrote about an unforgettable friendship: 

"My all time homemade lei was a 5-string green seed lei made by a WWII veteran I met who made it for me after we shared a long tour with a group. He said little, but watched everyone and everything. I wore it with Aloha and humility that he took the time to string the tiny seeds. I also noticed instead of souvenirs, he'd quietly and privately pick up tiny rocks from our many stops, something I have always done on trips but never shared. I think I was a little bit in love with him, but mostly in awe. Mahalo Stanley." 

 Anne, I bet Stanley was a little bit in love with you, too.

And Maureen B. Hanakahi recalled happy times with her beloved grandparents: 

"As a youngster, we used to spend summers at Grandma's hale (house) in Kahuku, and on weekends we would help her at her part-time job at the plumeria farm in Hauula. Oh my gosh, never saw so many plumeria blossoms in one place. The smell of them would waver throughout and we would never tire of it. If we had extra flowers, we would take them back to Grandma's and make leis. Such a wonderful activity trying to outdo one another in making the nicest lei. Of course, the double plumeria, no matter who made, it was always the most beautiful. Such loving times that still linger in my mind..."

 It was tough! SO many beautiful stories. But after careful consideration I settled on a favorite, written by 32-year-old Mililani resident Sarah Malia Ikehara. Here she is with her cute-as-a-button daughter Shaedyn, who's 7 years old. Don't you love this picture?

Here's Sarah's charming and poignant memory of her grandfather:

"My favorite lei and flower will always be the puakenikeni.

"When I was younger and in elementary, my grandpa would always have a puakenikeni lei for my sister and I for special occasions like birthdays, graduations, and May Days. I always thought he was Hawaiian, because he was as local as they come, with a perpetual tan, pidgin as standard language, and a habit of eating onions raw with Hawaiian salt and finishing a bowl of poi with this fingers.

"As I got older, I realized my local boy Japanese grandpa had strung the lei himself with flowers picked from his yard. Once, for a school function in Intermediate school, he taught me how.

"He'd bring over his beat up styrofoam cooler with wet newspapers, fresh picked puakenikeni (oh, the wonderful smell when he opened it up!), his big lei needle, yarn, and some ferns for finishing touch.

"He showed me how to cut the flowers "just so" (diagonally, so they sit closer together), and always made the yarn too long (yarn was always brown for blending purposes).

"I helped string my own lei for my high school graduation as by that time he was in his early 90s and not as deft with his hands as he used to be. But he was, of course, watching and instructing. And I was so proud (as I always was) to wear the lei of homegrown, hand-picked and strung-with-love, beautiful, 'ono smelling puakenikeni.

Puakenikeni Lei 


"He passed before I graduated from college, and of all lei I received, I missed the sweet smelling puakenikeni one the most. Each year, on May Day and my birthday, I go down to the airport and buy myself a puakenikeni lei to smell and reminisce the times with my grandpa (I wish I could make my own but I don't have a tree).

"Then I try to get up to Punchbowl to leave the lei for him."

Mahalo, Sarah Malia. What an unexpected gem you've given us. Your "Plumeria Profusion" print is on its way.



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