Lei Niho Palaoa and Hula Competition ‘Opio Oli

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Have you ever received a crafting mission that made you nervous with the responsibility of the task?
Last month, I was tasked to craft a critically important part of my daughter’s hula competition costume.  Important to the competition, but more importantly, it was culturally important complete the craft accurately and well.
a necklace from a costume for a Hula Competition wit title text reading Lei Niho Palaoa

 Earlier this week, I shared photos of my daughter’s hula halau (hula dance school) from the hula competition they attended last month {here}.  Today, I want to share more about my daughter’s solo competition event.
 My daughter was honored to compete in the ‘Opio (youth) Oli (chant) solo category.  Her costume is in the ancient Hawaiian style and is entirely wrapped (no pins, buttons, zippers or other attachments).  My daughter’s halau won 1st place for costumes, which isn’t surprising when you see her oli costume in person.  There are depths to the colors, that were created during the dyeing process, that are absolutely beautiful.
a teen girl wearing a costume for a Hula Competition
 Around her neck is a lei niho palaoa.  It is a necklace in the ancient style worn by high ranking members of Hawaiian society.  The pendant is fashioned from whale ivory.  I had the nerve-wracking task honor of creating the lei (necklace) to hold the pendant.   I received the pendant and about 8 rolls of black raffia with the encouragement, “You’re crafty, you can figure it out.”  After much research I was able to design a lei that resembles the traditional style, which was made of woven hair, and more importantly (to me) was strong enough to support the heavy pendant.
I was so focused on the crafting the lei that I did not remember to take photos.  The process is fairly easy, so if anyone ever has the occasion to create a lei niho palaoa, feel free to contact me for the steps.  But for the rest of us, let me summarize in photo form.
a collage of 5 images showing the steps needed to make a necklace from a costume for a Hula Competition wit title text reading Lei Niho Palaoa
The difficulty was to create a lei that used natural fibers to be as close to authentic as possible, but to also create a lei strong enough to hold the heavy bone pendant through out the weekend of competition.  No matter what, that lei could not break.
 Here you can see the lei niho palaoa on my daughter’s hula kumu (hula teacher/leader), Paul K. Neves.
showing the lei niho palaoa on my daughter's hula kumu (hula teacher/leader), Paul K. Neves.
I am proud of my daughter for taking on the kuleana, privilege and responsibility of representing her halau in competition in performing the oli.  Her kumu selected a difficult and emotional oli that left the entire room speechless in the power of the emotion.  I’m proud to share that my daughter, representing her halau, Halau H’a Kea o Mokihana, won first place in the ‘Opio Oli.
a teen girl performing in a hula competition
And pleased to report that the lei I crafted to hold the niho palaoa pendant held up through out the competition.  It looked both authentic and was strong enough.  Crafting mission accomplished.

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  1. How fascinating! Wow whale ivory I had never heard of it before.The costume is beautiful but the lei and the ceremony information is just fascinating.

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  3. Were can I get the whale hook pendent. I would love to make this lei for my husband and father in law.

  4. The lei and outfit is fabulous! If you still have it could you you me a close up of it. I went on a cruise to the islands this past December. Since then I have been engrossed in all things Hawai’ian.

    1. I no longer have the lei. It belongs to our kumu. But it is truly beautiful. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed your visit to Hawai’i Gayle. I’ve traveled to and live in a lot of different places and Hawai’i is the only one that is called paradise.

    2. I hope you are not trying to replicate this lei, it is sacred to the Hawaiian community. Real Lei Nihoa palaoa is made from whale bone and human hair, transferring mana (supernatural energy/power of our ancestors) into the wearer.

  5. The Lei Nihoa palaoa was traditionally worn only by Aliʻi (chiefs/chieffess), modern day Hawaiians do not wear this as a day to day lei outside of ceremony which Hula is a form of. Although I feel non-Hawaiians should not engage in cultural practices not of their own as the understanding can never be there. It is nice to see a Malihini noting the significance in a way that is respectful, and without culturally appropriating Hawaiian culture.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Lilia. It is an important emphasis that needs to be made here. I shared the tutorial at the request of my daughter’s alaka’i in case others would find it helpful. I recognized that it was a great responsibility I had been given and wished there had been a tutorial I could have followed. I sincerely hope that anyone finding this tutorial will only follow it at the request of and with the approval of their kumu. And follow the tutorial with the respect and responsibility that should accompany it.

  6. Beautiful job!
    Would you kindly email me the instructions for making the lei I have a Palaoa
    Mahalo for your kokua

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