We'll celebrate by draping lei on his statue as we do each year on June 11, but this year's event is special. Hundreds of elders are smiling with great satisfaction. After nearly 50 years of grass roots efforts across the country, led by Hawaiian groups including the Native Hawaiian Royal Benevolent Societies, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Hawai'i State Society of Washington, D.C.; and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Hawai'i Delegation -- working together with the Capitol's architect -- they have succeeded in ensuring the king's statue is in its rightful place. The six-ton bronze of Kamehameha the Great was moved to Emancipation Hall in the new U.S. Capitol’s Visitors’ Center under a skylight where he will now be seen by millions. Last Sunday this particular lei draping ceremony held special significance and it had been long awaited.
As for the meaning of lei? It is a tribute, a greeting, a mahalo, a gesture of Aloha. The custom was introduced by early Polynesian voyagers who traversed thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to find their way to our islands. They brought the tradition of making lei from flowers, maile (vine), leaves, shells, nuts, feathers, and the symbolic bone, teeth and human hair lei cherished by the Native Hawaiians. Then several generations later in the late 1920s lei sellers came to be. They were initially women of Papakolea, working on the pier at Aloha Tower greeting visitors from the luxury liners coming into port. The ladies made their living on the docks in the hardest of times, picking flowers that grew along the walk down from Tantalus to the water's edge. This income was used to augment what their husbands were not able to earn during this era when Native Hawaiians were met with unabashed discrimination in their own homeland.
So on this special day we pay tribute to Hawaii's monarch and to his people. We thank our host culture for showing us the Hawaiian way. On Saturday in Waikiki we have the luxury of enjoying, free of charge, a magnificent floral parade with thousands of flowers and lei presented as a tribute to the great King Kamehameha I. Life is Good in Hawaii.
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