Saying “I do” in Hawaii

Writer: Vaiva Rykštaitė

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At first, you will hear the hollow sound of a horn blowing, often evoking somewhat primordial feelings. It is in fact, a giant conch shell, known as Pu. In keeping with ancient Hawaiian traditions, it is used as an instrument to mark the beginning of an important ceremony or the arrival of Alii (royalty). The Pu blower usually blows into the four directions of Earth and can be heard from miles away. It is still popular nowadays. As the sound of the conch shell marks everything from the beginning of a touristy luau-style dinner party to sacred and secret ceremonies of old Hawaii. Blowing the Pu, they say, is a call to the divine.

So, you hear the trumpeting sound of the conch shell to herald the entrance of the bride. Often barefoot or wearing some stylish anklets, she would slowly walk towards the teary eyed groom. If there is a chanter present, you will no doubt hear ‘Oli Aloha’, the welcoming chant. It is also common for a chanter to walk the bride down the aisle while chanting about love and devotion. Or it can be live ukulele music, or even a good stereo hidden in a beautifully arranged bouquet of orchids, playing ‘Ke Kali Nei Au’, the traditional Hawaiian Wedding Song, or the English version of it, probably by Elvis Presley, from the movie Blue Hawaii.

“This is the moment” heard in Elvis’ unmistakable baritone, makes everyone’s skin explode with goose bumps. Or maybe it’s the wind?

People like to get married in Hawaii because of its mild and glorious climate. Though there is no greater blessing than a stir of the wind at a Hawaiian wedding, it is believed to be a presence of Ohana (family) members, who are physically absent but at this auspicious moment, surrounds you with their love. It is also a beautiful and subtle way to draw the attention to the dearly departed, with each breeze of wind seen as the touch of the loving spirits.

And then, there is silence. It’s time to gaze into each other’s eyes. Do you cry during weddings? (I do.) Now, it is time to exchange their vows, the rings and traditional Hawaiian leis – beautiful garlands, a creation strung out of flowers, seeds, leaves, vines, ferns, nuts and even fruits! Usually, the leis are exchanged between the bride and groom at the beginning of the ceremony. They symbolize an unbroken circle and their eternal commitment to one another. The early Hawaiians would only exchange flower leis as a symbol of their love. The wedding rings are a western tradition that came to the islands in the mid-1800.

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As cultures mingle, so do traditions – they change, evolve and adapt. It is a beautiful and organic process, which is usually interesting to observe and in most cases fun to take part. For instance, at contemporary Hawaiian weddings, it is common for all the guests to wear leis too – and it looks great in the photos. They smell divine, and so lovely to receive a blessing in the form of a fragrant garland of Hawaiian flowers from the hands of the groom and bride. Oh, and the bride often wears a garland of flowers in her hair rather than a veil.

American brides commonly stick to their “something old, something blue, something borrowed”, while it is also not uncommon to see an Asian bride getting married in a traditional Kimono. Standing on a picturesque Hawaiian beach, either surrounded by their loving families or even eloping, they usually gladly combine local traditions with their own.

Once the bride and the groom are standing in front of each other, the officiant begins by dipping the Ti leaf into the water in the Koa wood bowl. In Hawaiian culture, the Ti leaf represents prosperity, health and blessing of mind, body and soul. The water serves to symbolically wash back into the ocean any hindrance to their relationship, and secondly, to represent a fresh beginning as husband and wife.  The leaf is dipped into the bowl, and the water is sprinkled three times over the wedding rings, typically while chanting: Ei-Ah Eha-No. KaMalohia Oh-Na-Lani. Mea A-Ku A-Pau, meaning “May peace from above rest upon you and remain with you now and forever.

The wedding may also continue as a traditional luau feast with the huge torches of fire and fat kalua pigs roasted in pits beneath the soil, or like a small elegant dinner at the local restaurant. Some couples escape the crowds and elope to Hawaii. Some go there for the weather, while some bring their entire families and friends, booking large hotels and party for a week.

There are no strict rules of what a Hawaiian wedding should follow.  People have their histories and traditions, Hawaiians are extremely welcoming and forgiving the blissful ignorance of foreigners, yet willing to explain and share their traditional ways.

But, if you ask me, what a typical wedding in Hawaii, looks like, I’d say: “The beach, a white dress fluttering in the wind, bare feet, some fresh tan lines from the long day in the sun, and flowers – lots of white flowers strung into the fragrant leis.”Lei–a garland constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. Nowadays it is usually made of fragrant white flowers or luscious green Ti leafs.

Ti Leaf– Cordyline fruticosa is an evergreen flowering plant belonging to the Asparagaceae family. In Hawaiian tradition Ti (aka Ki) is considered a sacred plant, worn or carried as protection from evil spirits and to call in the good spirits. Ti leaves are often still used today during religious rituals and opening ceremonies to bless new buildings or projects.

Koa Bowl– aka “calabash bowl” is a round wooden dish used to serve food, most commonly seafood and poi. There is saying in Hawaii the “calabash cousin”, meaning the person that one shares the calabash bowl with. In Hawaii t is an honor to share food from the same Koa bowl, and people who do it were considered to be(come) family. It is also used in religious rituals and ceremonies, usually when dipping Ti leaf in the Koa bowl with water.

Bare Feet–in Hawaii do as Hawaiians do! Well, actually Hawaiian residents live in their “rubbahslippahs.” It is not a must, and some couples prefer to get married wearing their shoes, but barefoot weddings always feel like more fun and liberating.

Pu – a giant conch shell, the Pu, in ancient Hawaiian traditions is used as an instrument similar to a horn to mark the beginning of an important ceremony or the arrival of Alii (royalty)

The Beach– the cheapest and the most picturesque venue in Hawaii

The Sunset – this is the most popular time to get married, as the weather is not too hot at this hour and everyone seems to have that magic glow in the photos.

White – sincere smiles with gleaming white teeth, white dress, white curtains, white covers on the chairs, white flowers, the white foaming of the Ocean waves and white feathery clouds adorning the bright blue sky.

Something Blue–you don’t have to worry about this one – the Ocean is always there!

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