92 years of lei: selecting the 2020 Lei Day Court

Local News

Although Lei Day is still a couple months away — it’s May Day, in Hawaii — the Lei Day Court selection will take place on Saturday, March 7th, which KHON2 will be live-streaming.

Ahead of the court selection, we spoke to Kaiulani Kauahi, the Culture and Arts Coordinator for the Department of Parks and Recreation, about the history and significance of Lei Day, as well as the process of selection.

KHON2: What is the general history of Lei Day?

Kaiulani Kauahi: Lei Day began in 1927 as a community initiative when poet laureate Don Blanding and “Kamaaina Kolumn” columnist Grace Tower Warren thought that Hawai`i should have a day to celebrate the custom of giving and receiving lei. “May Day is Lei Day” was coined and is now a universally known phrase. A song was written by Leonard and Ruth Hawk based on that phrase. In 1928, Mayor Charles Arnold crowned the first Lei Queen, Miss Nina Bowman. By the early 1930s, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has had the kuleana to host Lei Day in Hawaii. Today, DPR upholds a 90+ year tradition where locals and visitors come together to celebrate all things lei.

What is the cultural significance of Lei Day?

The annual Lei Day Celebration provides a venue where several days of lei activities and events culminate into one grand day to celebrate lei and the skill and artistry of Hawai‘i’s lei makers. The lei is a beautiful expression of the Hawaiian culture through our values, kuleana (responsibility), beliefs and practices. Our goal is to celebrate and perpetuate the artistry of lei making and the Hawaiian culture. The events listed will provide an occasion for lei artisans to create and present their artistic work at venues developed specifically for their craft, as well as, share the rich Hawaiian culture. A theme is used as a guide for the overall ambiance of the events and lei contest. The theme for 2020 is Lei ‘Ili – lei of special places. The theme lei material is lau kī (ti-leaf).

Lei making is a Hawaiian cultural practice in our community and abroad. Lei Day activities provide resident-visitor interactions through lei making, Hawaiian games, storytelling, hula, music, pageantry and sharing of our traditions and knowledge. The five senses are engaged for a total body experience. Through our lei making classes we preserve and strengthen the practice of lei making. We collaborate with community kupuna and their haumāna [students] to provide lei making demonstrations for the kama‘āina and malihini at Lei Day. The interaction is precious. Aloha enhances the experiences. Lei Day provides opportunities for cultural practitioners, artisans, and musicians to not only preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, but more importantly share it with their ‘ohana, their community and beyond. 

What is the process of getting nominated for the Lei Day Court?

Applications are available in Fall of the previous year.  We send them to hālau, past lei courts, civic clubs, parks and on social media.  Individuals submit applications.  As long as the individual meets the age requirement for the specific year, we accept that applicant.

As for the selection process, each year the lei court is selected from one of four rotating groups:
18-30 years–Nā ‘Ōpio (The Youth)
31-45 years–Nā Mākua (The Adults)
46-60 years–Nā Mākua ‘O‘o (The Elders in Training)
61 and over–Nā Kūpuna (The Elders)

2020 is the year of Nā Mākua. One lei king or queen and up to two lei princes and/or princesses will be selected. Each contestant vying for top honors will be scored on:

–Kumuhana o ka lei (lei making skills – they have one hour to make a lei on site)
–Kūlana Lei (poise and personality);
–‘Ōlelo Pelekane and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (speaking in both English and Hawaiian)
–Hula ‘Auana (modern hula)

The Lei Day Court Selection will take place from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturday, March 7th at Kapolei Hale. It is free and open to the public. The KHON2 live stream will begin at 1:00 pm.

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