Pasifika is Auckland’s annual festival celebration of culture, lifestyle and food of the Pacific Island peoples of the city. Inaugurated in 1993, the festival is held annually in March, primarily at Western Springs Park in Central Auckland. This mass gathering brings the melting pot of the Pacific in Auckland into sharp focus as it is animated by vibrant entertainment, an array of irresistible Pasifika food, and impressive displays of hand-made goods. Assorted lei were often found suspended in stalls selling crafts and goods, as well as a many festival participants and attendees graced by colourful lei.
Lei are recognisably Pacific garlands used to ornament and beautify people, objects and spaces. It is customary to receive lei as a gift, but they can also be purchased. Wearers of lei signify, assert and celebrate identity, manifesting the power of adornment. Although the term lei is Hawaiian, it is widely understood and used in reference to garlands across many parts of the Pacific where the making of lei has long been a customary practice. In the Cook Islands it is called ‘ei, in Fiji salusalu, and in Niue and Tonga kahoa, just to name a few. They are formed by threading together small objects and fastening the ends into a closed loop. Flowers, leaves, seeds and seashells were materials used customarily.
In Aotearoa, where natural materials and flowers are not so readily available, lei making has adapted to take advantage of more available materials such as using plastic, ribbons, banknotes, chocolates and lollies. The materials, techniques, arrangement and designs vary, but they are still based on the mastery of traditional methods and knowledge that are shared, broadened and passed on. The intergenerational sharing of knowledge is a time-honoured attribute of the Pacific.
Lei. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 2019.31.33.