The sweet smells of May

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Museum presents its most fragrant tradition during its annual Lei Contest and May Day Celebration from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kaua‘i Museum.

Now in its 32nd year, the event is dedicated to celebrating Hawaiian culture. Fresh, fragrant and colorful lei will be displayed throughout the museum and guests are encouraged to try their hand at lei making. Lei masters will demonstrate their art on the steps of the museum.

“This is the 32nd anniversary, that is big. That is three decades, plus,” said Jane Gray, director of the Kaua‘i Museum. “There are more people, more entries today, and they are getting more creative every year.”

In addition to the museum’s traditional lei contest, the museum is re-introducing the Keiki La Lei Contest, a special category created for young lei makers.

“Now we have the Keiki La Lei Contest,” Gray said. “We should have several dozen kids from ages 5 to 18 enter. It’s important because the perpetuation of the lei tradition will continue.”

Master lei maker William “Bill” Char and Mahealani Kaui will judge the category leis. Community members, a representative of the mayor’s office and members of the museum’s board of directors will also judge sponsored lei categories.

“I can’t wait to see the leis. I know they are going to be beautiful,” said Char, who has judged the Honolulu sponsored lei contest. “Because I’m not always on Kaua‘i, I don’t always see what they do with their leis. It will be interesting for an outside person coming in.”

Char likes to use native flowers in his lei, and promotes sustainable lei making.  

“If you showcase that flower that is grown here, there’s a tendency for more people to look at those flowers and try to use those flowers from here,” Char said.  

Char said he has lei gardens at friends’ homes scattered throughout the islands.

“That’s how we try to keep picking of native plants down to a minimum,” Char said.

Lei making can be laborious, as lei makers prepare days ahead of time, but the museum’s annual celebration highlights the creativity of the island’s people.

“The artistry of lei making is still thriving,” Gray said. “No matter what the economy looks like, it never effects the well being of the lei makers because it’s something they love and it’s from their spirit.”

From 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., lei makers will be on site to sell and demonstrate lei making. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the doors to the museum will be open for lei viewing. At 1 p.m., winners of each category will be announced. At 3 p.m., the silent auction of lei ends, and at 3:30 p.m., a live auction will commence selling unclaimed lei. The museum will close at 4 p.m.

Admission is free for children and kama‘aina, and $6 for adults.

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