Tuesday, January 16, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Language of lei is local style

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

You know us guys, we so polite. We see stuff, we no say notting. We hear stuff, we no say notting. People do stuff to us, we no say notting.

Like the thing about the lei.

We all know just what it means when everybody at the party gets the double-ilima action and we get the lousy tuberose-carnation-orchid-tuberose treatment.

But we don’t say nothing.

We know when the calabash aunty, the one you can hardly remember her name, gives you a "whoppa" — one of those 4-inch high, dried leaves, fake flowers, plenny baby’s breath, haku-style head lei for graduation. That means probably no more one check inside the card, ’cuz she spent it all at the florist.

But we just smile and tell Aunty thank you and try not to let on that we cannot remember if her name is Joan or JoAnn.

The language of the lei is powerful, subtle, a completely insider thing. We smile at the tourists wearing more string than flowers. We wink at the teenager having to wear the crocheted crown flowers from grandma.

We sigh in admiration at an exquisite pikake sewn in the round and worn against a black holomu. And the smell of good old-fashioned plumeria brings back elementary school May Days.

So for those who might not have figured it out, a maile lei is always a good thing, a money lei was made for you and not purchased in a store, and if it’s on a string, the more varied and large the flowers are, the less they paid for it. Of course, the opposite would be true if we’re talking flowers in a vase. But we’re not.

A preschool lei of yarn, McDonald’s straws and construction paper flowers is to be treasured forever.

A Yick Lung lei of crack seed is to be eaten immediately. A ginger lei that was in the little plastic box for so long it smells rotten is to be secretly thrown away the second the lei giver is out of sight.

A triple-strand pakalana (my faaaavorite) means some poor soul spent all day going from one neighbor’s house to the next scrounging for flowers and picking their pakalana vines raw and dragging her best friend with her who all the while is grumbling about "I don’t know why you knocking yourself out for Eric Pacheco, he not even going appreciate, ’cuz he too busy checking out Dannette Reyes," and turns out she was right and I picked all those flowers for nothing and ...

But I digress. Understanding about lei is part of understanding these islands. Knowing the formal (maile, ilima, kika) from the informal (plumeria, plumeria, plumeria) is like knowing the dress code. Making sure the lei you’re giving doesn’t make the wearer sneeze or scratch is just courteous. Knowing someone’s favorite is just sweet.

So keep your eyes open. The Legislature opens tomorrow. Check out who’s got the most orchid-tuberose-carnation ones. You know what that means. But don’t say notting.

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