Manataka American Indian Council







The Meaning of Flowers

A message from an Indigenous Hawaiian

by Reno Kapo Villaren




[The differences between the indigenous peoples of the continent and our counterparts on the Hawaiian Islands are not many, but the few that exist may have something to teach us.  For example, unlike our Hawaiian friends, most North American Indians do not use flowers as personal adornment or decoration.  The flower is thought to be a special gift of the Creator and carelessly picking a flower is thought to be selfish -- an act that removes the life of a beautiful being and deprives other humans, animals and insects of its aromas, pleasant appearance and its necessity to other forms of life.  A friend of Manataka, Reno Kapo Villaren who lives in the Islands volunteered to teach us their beautiful ways.]



We are one of the few places in the United States that can be considered truly tropical. Our cousins to the south ,who too are native but are under the commonwealth and protection of the United States, American Samoans and our neighbors to the far west in the Marianas, Native Guamanians called Chamorros, are three of the five native peoples who live in the tropics that come under the umbrella of the United States and its territories. Puerto Rico being one and South Florida with our Seminole cousins, and all the surviving native blood that have become politically known as Seminole ( ie. those who have Timicua, Yamasee, Ais and other lesser known native tribe indigenous to Florida who are no longer in tribal existence) being the latter.


Because of being in the tropics the flora and fauna are abundant. Flower bloom, fruits ripen and the regeneration of the forest and plants are constant. Out deities in Hawaiian culture manifest their being in the different plants, flowers, seeds, birds and animals that are sacred and yet very personal to us. We are taught this special-ness of love of land thru flora and fauna at a very young age and our art of dance called hula is not only our form of recording and literacy but a way of celebrating and worshiping our culture and religious beliefs. 


In the agriculture culture of our people we know the need to harvest in a tropical climate. We have two important harvest seasons that reflect the tropical growth seasons autumn and spring. If we do not harvest the fruits and flowers will rot on the tree or plant and thus hinder the productivity of the plant. 


We honor each other, momentous events of remembrance or celebration with a flower garland called a lei. A lei meant so many things to a Hawaiian. By looking at the contents of the lei we could tell from where you can from...forest, upland, beach side, barren plain or lush river valley, who your family was....royalty, priest, warrior, fisherman or farmer, your status and age...the color or predominant color of the lei or the type of flower or scent the blossoms gave off or not, the skill your had the way the lei was made...wiliwili style, kui style, hakupapa style etc, to the intention you meant by wearing or giving a lei...a pandanus lei given to those embarking on a new endeavor or a maile leaf lei with yellow ilima meaning you have a status respectable of others in either leadership, hula or oratory.  The lei could be made of flowers, greenery, vines or the petals stripped from blossom. 


Flowers that were scented usually were worn by those of our royalty. It became a trade mark of some of them that when you are at an event where that particular royal was being honored and remembered you might just smell that waft of fragrance of oh say Jasmine Osmundis or as we say Pikake. The royal may have been dead for two decades, but the spirit of that royal was surely there as everyone could smell the fragrance of that royals' favorite lei -- and no one was wearing a jasmine lei! 


The deities were our families as well. By picking a flower that especially was one of the many incarnations of that deity and placing in ones hair or behind ones ear was a great way of honoring that deity and thusly your family. We call Hawai' i she and a living entity and "she" gives us the permission to gather and enjoy the bounty of flora and fauna. She provides us the materials to clothe ourselves and adorn ourselves in the Hawaiian way. As tropical people do.

--- Aloha No -- Reno Kapo Villaren


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