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A Guide to Customs of a Traditional Hawaiian Wedding

Picture of Marjorie Perlas
Writer
Updated: 20 April 2018
Before you start imagining bridesmaids in grass skirts strolling down the aisle followed by a line of fire dancers, think again.

The traditional Hawaiian wedding is actually a ceremony that is extremely humbling and very much connected with nature. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to witness the beauty of the big day in person, so here’s six features to look out for.

The conch shell

Typically, a member of the bridal party will blow the conch shell to initiate the ceremony, as well as to denote its ending. If you pay attention, the person blowing the conch, or ‘pu’, will blow in four directions: to represent each of the elements and announce to them the importance of the occasion.

Conch shell or ‘pu’
Conch shell or ‘pu’ | © Pratik Patel / Unsplash

The lei exchange

The bride and groom did not accidentally put on the wrong lei. The exchange of lei is actually a tradition that has been done in Hawaii for centuries. Natives would exchange their lei as a common way of symbolizing their love and affection for one another.

The wedding dress

The bride’s dress may seem a bit loose fitting for a wedding gown. Typical Western wedding dresses do tend to be more form fitting. This is done on purpose. The dress is actually meant to be loose and flows so that it can move with the wind, again adding to the focus of nature during the ceremony.

The washing of wedding rings

If you see the wedding rings being sprinkled with water, it does not mean they are dirty and need to be cleaned. This is actually a blessing ceremony. The ti leaf symbolizes health of body and soul, while the water is meant to refresh the rings for a new beginning and new life together.

Wedding rings are sprinkled with water at a Hawaiian wedding
Wedding rings are sprinkled with water at a Hawaiian wedding | © marla66 / Pixabay

The lava rock

You may think that someone mistakenly forgot to pick up the lava rock that was wrapped in ti leaf when the ceremony ended. In fact, it’s meant to stay in place after the ceremony and thereafter. For Hawaiians, it’s an offering to the land and nature, while also a way to ground the relationship of the bride and groom.

A lava rock represents an offering to land and nature
A lava rock represents an offering to land and nature | © Felix Russell-Saw / Unsplash

Ke Kali Nei Au

Whether in its classical Hawaiian lyrics or the famous version by Elvis Presley, you will most likely hear the Ke Kali Nei Au at some point during the Hawaiian wedding. It will typically be the first song played at the reception for the newlyweds and during their first dance. Listen to it before the wedding to have a better appreciation for it later on.