Resplendent, Heavenly Haku

Elvrine Chow of Heavenly Hakus gathers flowers, leaves and seeds from her home garden, as well as from the gardens of family and friends, and makes head lei known as haku.

Specializing in rainbow haku – made with many colorful flowers – Chow also creates single-colored haku, but, of course, availability is based on the season.

Chow will talk story about how she became a lei-maker, establishing her company in 1996, and her love of the art followed by a lei-making demonstration Saturday, April 20, at 10:30 a.m., at Kaua’i Museum. As part of the museum’s “Author Series,” the conversation will be moderated by Pamela Varma Brown, author of Kaua’i Stories: Life on the Garden Island Told by Kaua’i’s People. Chow’s story will be included in Kaua’i Stories Volume II, now in production.

“The reason I keep doing it is because I want to perpetuate the art of lei making and haku in particular,” explains Chow. “There was a time when you didn’t see haku very much, and I don’t want the tradition to die.”

HAKU

The Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert defines haku (ha-coo) as a transitive verb that means to compose, invent, put in order, arrange; to braid as a lei, or plait, as feathers.

“It’s loosely called haku,” says Chow. “It’s really called a ‘lei ho’o,’ which means ‘a lei for your head.’ Haku means ‘to braid’ in Hawaiian, but I use the ‘wili’ style, and that means ‘to wrap.’ So I wrap the flowers around a base, rather than braiding flowers together.”

A haku is a crown of flowers that’s worn for weddings, religious ceremonies and celebrations. Chow has made haku for birthdays, retirements and as a loving gesture for a special girl during a girls’ night out. Chow has even made haku for horses, and for loved ones who have passed on.

“Some people put haku on a grave, around an urn or by a photo,” says Chow. “It’s beautiful to hear the stories of why people want them.”

It takes Chow about 45 minutes to make a 21-inch haku, which is the average size of a person’s head. Gathering the flowers, leaves and seeds for the haku can take many hours. Chow needs at least 48 hours’ notice, and her haku start at $25. Price is based on length and use of specialty flowers. Chow also delivers and ships her haku.

“Be sure the person is going to enjoy it before you get them a haku,” warns Chow, who suggests wearing one on a hat. “Some people feel like too much attention is being drawn to them when they wear a haku, or they don’t like wearing something on their head. If that’s the case, I can make a longer haku that they can wear around their neck.”

What’s growing: Ohai ali’i (red/yellow), violets, violas, hibiscus, orchids, ylang-ylang, mini roses, marigold, bougainvillea (red, fuschia, orangey-pink), i’e i’e, stephanotis, red ginger, white ginger, lily of the Nile, ageratum, lavender, blue daze, geranium, impatiens, straw flowers, plume-ria, puakenikeni, chrysanthemum, pikake, pakalana, hydrangea, bleeding heart, globe amaranth, pansy, honeysuckle, blue ginger, roses, bird of paradise, purple spider lily, mango, lychee, star fruit, longan, avocado, mountain apple, pomegranate, coconut, passion fruit, pineapple, banana, achote, noni, rosemary, oregano, basil (cinnamon, Thai and regular), sage, thyme, cilantro, comfrey, lemon grass, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, chives, allspice, Okinawan spinach, curly kale, bromeliad (two types), croton, green onion, spider plants, tree fern, laua’e fern, palapalai, rabbit’s foot, kupukupu, asparagus fern, fishtail fern, bird’s nest fern, moa, panax, ti leaf (red, green, pink, yellow) pride of India, palms, Pele’s hair, dracaena, joy weed, coleus, dusty miller, a’ali’i, jade, dwarf lehua (red).

Season: Haku are made year-round, but the season when flowers are most abundant on Kaua’i is May and June, and sometimes into July.

Storage: The best way to store haku, or any kind of lei, is to dunk it in water, shake excess water off, place it in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator. Stored this way, they can last for up to two weeks.

Tip: When the fresh haku begins to fade, you can dry it. For best results, wrap it around the brim of a hat, or drape it on a lampshade. Haku can be brought on the plane for return flights home, or as gifts of aloha for loved ones.

Heavenly Hakus can be found at: Chow teaches three-hour workshops for $35 a person, and demonstrates how to make haku at the farmers market. You can see her haku at the Kaua’i Museum during Lei Day (May 1), or every Saturday at Kaua’i Community Market in Lihu’e. For more information, call 634-9999.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com

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