Hawaiian culture is full of traditions and ancient rituals. As we’re launching our Shell Collection, we found so many interesting insights into Hawaiian culture that involve these beautiful treasures of the ocean. Want to find out more? Take a dive into the history of the Hawaiian islands and their connection to shells with us.
Seashells and their meaning for the early Hawaiians
For the early Hawaiians, seashells were a central part of their life and had various purposes. They were:
- a source of food
- used to create shell leis for adornment
- material for weapons and fish hooks
- a communication device
Even now they still serve some of these purposes.
The Hawaiian conch shell
Blowing the Hawaiian conch shell, called Pū, is a deep part of Hawaiian culture. It was used to announce the beginning of Makahiki, the Hawaiian new year, or to honor important visitors and royalty. The sound of this special seashell also was used to communicate: fishermen and sailors were able to signal across the water – blown the right way, a Pū can be heard for several kilometers. Thus, the precious shells, regarded as gifts of the sea, were passed down from one generation to the next.
Today, the Hawaiian conch shell still has a fixed place in Hawaiian culture. It is sounded for weddings, hula festivals, as well as traditional ceremonies, where it must be blown in the four cardinal directions, signifying the gathering of all powers.
Hawaiian shell lei making
In 1778-1779 Captain Cook was the first to record the Hawaiian rituals of wearing and making necklaces with small shells. The tiny Ni'ihau shells have been used for hundreds of years to create beautiful shell lei that have been worn by Hawaiian royalty, such as Queen Kapi'olani.
Creating these leis is an art form that has been passed down from generation to generation. Collecting those tiny shells and sorting them to get the perfect lei can take years, as they are sorted by type, color and size, to then be strung in various styles until the final piece is accomplished.
How did you like this little introduction to the meaning of seashells in Hawaiian culture? Let us know if you want to learn more about it in the comments.