Understanding the Symbolism Behind Traditional Hawaiian Wedding Gifts

Understanding the Symbolism Behind Traditional Hawaiian Wedding Gifts

In traditional Hawaiian wedding gifts, each meticulously chosen item is more than just a present; it’s a profound expression of love, respect, and wishes for the couple’s future.

The act of giving in Hawaiian culture is deeply embedded with symbols and meanings, reflecting a rich heritage that dates back centuries.

This article delves into the essence of these gifts, uncovering their symbolic significance and the cultural reverence they hold within the context of a Hawaiian wedding.

The Roots of Hawaiian Wedding Traditions

Hawaiian weddings, known for their spiritual and communal nature, are deeply rooted in the indigenous culture of the Hawaiian Islands.

These ceremonies are a celebration of love and a manifestation of ancient traditions passed down through generations.

Today’s traditions are a tapestry of indigenous customs intertwined with influences from other cultures over the centuries.

Historically, Hawaiian society was highly organized into a system with explicit roles and protocols, including during special occasions like weddings.

According to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, traditional Hawaiian weddings were primarily focused on ensuring good spiritual and physical conditions for the newlyweds, involving rituals that appealed to the gods for blessing and fertility.

These rituals have evolved but still influence modern practices, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a connection to ancestral roots.

Common Traditional Hawaiian Wedding Gifts

Among the myriad of traditional Hawaiian wedding gifts, certain items stand out for their symbolic meanings and the roles they play in the ceremony.

These gifts are often handmade, requiring skill and deep understanding, which adds to their sentimental value.

1. Lei

The lei, a garland made from flowers, leaves, shells, or nuts, is synonymous with Hawaiian culture but holds special significance in weddings. Exchanged by the bride and groom, the leis symbolizes unending love and respect. As noted by the Hawaii Public Library System, the circular shape of the lei represents eternal commitment and the unbroken bond between the couple.

2. Kapa Cloth

Another cherished gift is the kapa cloth, made from the beaten bark of the wauke or paper mulberry tree. This cloth was traditionally used in various ceremonies, including weddings, symbolizing warmth and cover for the couple’s new life together. The intricate patterns and designs on kapa are unique to each family, often telling stories of lineage and personal history.

3. Lauhala Items

Items woven from the leaves of the hala tree, such as mats or baskets, are also popular gifts. These lauhala items represent the weaving together of two lives into one. As per the teachings at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the skill of lauhala weaving is a cherished knowledge passed down through generations, making such items a gift of wisdom and heritage.

4. Wooden Carvings

Wooden carvings, often created from native woods like koa, carry profound significance. They are usually in bowls or decorative pieces, each carved with symbols representing strength, stability, and growth in the couple’s new journey together.

Symbolism and Meanings

The symbolism in these traditional Hawaiian wedding gifts is rich and varied, imbued with wishes for the couple’s future.

Each gift carries a specific hope or blessing:

  • Leis are for eternal love and respect.
  • Kapa cloths signify protection and warmth in the couple’s shared journey.
  • Lauhala items symbolize unity and the intricacy of married life.
  • Wooden carvings represent strength and growth.

Understanding these symbols allows participants and observers alike to appreciate the depth of these traditional practices and the wishes they convey.

Modern Adaptations

While traditional elements remain at the core of Hawaiian weddings, modern adaptations have seen these age-old gifts blending with contemporary elements.

For example, some couples incorporate traditional designs into more modern gifts like artwork or jewelry that features motifs from kapa patterns or lauhala weaving.

This fusion not only honors the past but also adapts to the changing times, making traditional Hawaiian wedding gifts relevant even in today’s globalized world.

How to Choose the Right Hawaiian Wedding Gift

Choosing the right traditional Hawaiian wedding gift requires understanding its cultural significance and the specific preferences of the couple.

Experts recommend selecting authentic and handmade gifts, ensuring they respect and reflect true Hawaiian craftsmanship. It’s also crucial to consider the couple’s lifestyle and how they plan to incorporate Hawaiian culture.

Avoiding cultural appropriation by respecting the origins and meanings of these gifts is essential for anyone participating in this special occasion.


The tradition of giving in Hawaiian weddings is a beautiful reflection of the Hawaiian spirit—connected, respectful, and rich with symbolism.

Traditional Hawaiian wedding gifts are not just presented but profound expressions of love, unity, and wishes for prosperity.

As these traditions evolve, they remain a testament to Hawaiian culture’s enduring beauty and depth.

By embracing these traditions, you do not simply participate in a ceremony but become part of a historical continuum, honoring a culture that has maintained its vibrancy and significance through the ages.

If you’re looking to infuse your special day with the spirit of Aloha, which is far from the Hawaiian Islands, contact Aloha Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

Discover how we bring authentic Hawaiian traditions to your Las Vegas wedding, ensuring your celebration is as meaningful as memorable.

Let us help you integrate these beautiful traditions into your ceremony. Contact Aloha Wedding Chapel today to learn more about our Hawaiian Las Vegas wedding chapel offerings!


What is the significance of giving a lei at a Hawaiian wedding?

In Hawaiian weddings, the lei, typically made of flowers or kukui nuts, symbolizes love, respect, and a welcoming of the recipient into one’s life. Giving a lei during a wedding ceremony is a deeply meaningful gesture that honors the tradition of aloha, signifying both love and friendship.

Why are Koa wood items popular as Hawaiian wedding gifts?

Koa wood, native to Hawaii, is highly valued for its beauty and strength, making it a popular choice for wedding gifts such as bowls or picture frames. These items represent the strength and durability of the marriage, as well as a connection to the Hawaiian islands and their natural beauty.

What does the gift of water symbolize in a Hawaiian wedding?

Water is a powerful symbol in Hawaiian culture, representing life, flow, and renewal. At weddings, presenting water as a gift can signify the purification and new beginnings for the couple, encouraging a harmonious and lifelong union.

How does the gift of lava rock reflect Hawaiian cultural beliefs?

Lava rock, or pōhaku, is considered sacred in Hawaiian culture, embodying the fire goddess Pele’s energy. As a wedding gift, it symbolizes the foundation of a new life built on strength and resilience, reflecting the powerful forces of nature and the endurance of love.

Why are taro plants considered a thoughtful wedding gift in Hawaii?

Taro, or kalo, holds great cultural significance in Hawaii, seen as the ancestral spirit and a staple food. Gifting taro plants at a wedding represents growth, nourishment, and the deep roots of the couple’s relationship, hoping to bring prosperity and health to their new life together.