Ni‘ihau: Rare Magic

Ni_ihau Blog Post

The official month in which to celebrate the islands’ iconic lei is May, but they’re a beautiful and inspiring part of the culture year ‘round. Kukuiula’s Michael Chock explains.

Michael Chock is a lei expert and aficionado with an affection for every kind of Hawaiian necklace, whether made of flowers, feathers, nuts or shells. But he’s particularly fond of the rare and precious lei pupu shell lei from the island of Ni’ihau.

Ni‘ihau, just 18 miles west of Kauai, is the so-called “Forbidden Island” which may be inhabited only by people of Hawaiian descent. The owners of the island, the Robinson family, bought it from the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1864. They left Ni‘ihau to the people of Hawai‘i so that they might preserve the island as it was pre-contact. Today, there’s electricity only at the community school; visitors may snorkel close by but are not permitted to step on the island.

The island is the source of Hawai‘i’s most coveted shell lei, those made from tiny, gemlike shells found only on its beaches. Inhabitants have been perfecting the art and craft of these lei for centuries, and there are many kinds of the tiny shells and styles of tying them into lei. Among the most popular are the khaelelani and momi shells; the scarcer the color and more complex the mix, the more valuable the lei. Spend a moment with Michael to get his take on the Ni‘ihau, then visit Ni’ihai Heritage for a detailed look at this uniquely delicate and labor-intensive form of Hawaiian artistry.

While you’re here, staying at prime Kauai real estate, don a traditional lei and check out 50 amazing things to do.