Hawaii is a diverse place filled with many different cultures, religions and traditions. You can generally find the main populace to be made up of traditional Hawaiians, Americans and all their diverse ways of thinking, and the Japanese with their traditional yet modern heritage. It’s quite a mix, which makes focusing on just one series of wedding customs quite difficult because like all weddings, it does really depend on what you want and who you are marrying.
My newly minted husband and I first fell in love in Hawaii five years ago and seven months into our relationship. When we discussed getting married we discussed eloping to Hawaii with our closest friends and family, but when this rang through with disappointment we had to rethink the idea. In the end, we decided to have our wedding in Jervis Bay (Australia’s whitest sand beach!) and just incorporate some Hawaiian traditions into our ceremony. The good news was that we had such an amazing celebrant that he tailor made the ceremony for us and we decided to use the more traditional Hawaiian ideals in the wedding.
In the vein of my International Wedding Customs posts, I thought I would share with you some of the fun Hawaiian wedding customs we used in our own personal wedding, plus some different ones we didn’t use and also noticed when we were on our Honeymoon. I hope you enjoy it, but remember a lot of research and love went into this and it’s super personal to me, so treat it well!
This first custom I want to mention was something we used to signal the start of our ceremony and it was the blowing of the conch shell. If anyone has seen a conch shell, it’s a beautiful ornate shell that has been “conked” or broken at the tip to create a hollow in the base of the shell, so that you can play it like a horn.
Blowing the conch shell is not only used on sea vessels in the past and the present, but it is a way of signaling that something special is about to happen (ie. our wedding!). The celebrant (or in Hawaiian, the Kahu) blows the conch four times to summon the land, air, fire and sea to be witnesses to the ceremony and approve the union of the couple. The conch shell can also be blown three times to invite the ancient Hawaiian guardian spirits of the earth, the sea and the sky to join the couple in celebration and act as a sign of respect to the forces of the universe.
This particular part of our ceremony was a beautiful tradition and worked really well for us because the day was just absolutely perfect down to the weather, which is the most uncontrollable notion for a beach wedding. The Hawaiian spirits were certainly with us for our wedding!
Photo by Chloe Moore Photography.
Another uniquely Hawaiian custom is that of giving leis to people, especially when you first arrive in Hawaii (you’ll find this everywhere at the airport!). Leis are used as a beautiful gift to give from the bride to the groom and the groom to the bride, as well as to the parents and the bridal party. In the lei, each blossom represents the bride and the groom united into a circle of eternal and unconditional love (ie. The lei itself) and that it will never end or break.
It’s a beautiful symbol of love that would be a great representation of your Hawaiian spirit in the wedding. Just remember that when you think of leis, it doesn’t have to be the cheap plastic colourful flowers you get from the local dollar store. You can get really nice long green leaf leis for the groom and beautiful white lilly leis for the bride, so think more on a natural side. They can even be a great alternative to bouquets!
One thing we noticed which was very popular amongst the Japanese bride and grooms in the Waikiki, Honolulu area, was spending hours getting their photos taken around the more populated areas. I found this very surprising, as most wedding photos take place with the bridal party and really only last about an hour.
In these cases, the bride and the groom go off with the photographer and the photographer’s assistant and end up at very touristy areas of Hawaii for their photographs. This included the Waikiki beach (designed for Elvis Presley’s movie Blue Hawaii and one of the most famous and populated beaches on the island of Oahu) and the densely packed sidewalk outside expensive stores such as Armani Exchange and Prada. During your wedding photos you generally want to be as romantic and alone as possible, but if you want to follow in the vein of Hawaiian tradition, you can always go along with this. Who knows, perhaps their photos were amazingly artsy anyway? If you see any, let me know!
A lovely custom that my husband and I did in our own wedding was the offering of a lava rock. In a Hawaiian wedding ceremony, the lava rock is offered to please Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. My husband and I took this small lava rock that we found on the beach and threw it into the ocean, which was also a great chance for us to reflect on the day and take a moment to just be with ourselves.
Now some of these customs and traditions are very purely Hawaiian in their nature, and our celebrant did a great job at turning them into a very personal tale of our own love. I would highly recommend utilizing an international custom or tradition for your own wedding, because it really personalizes the experience for you, especially if you choose a custom or tradition from an area that you both love as a couple.
We had a lot of great feedback from our guests in saying that the ceremony was beautiful and unique and suited us as a couple to a tee. Everyone was interested in the significance of why we chose the customs that we did, and it makes for a great talking point at the reception and for time afterwards as well. I highly recommend it, and I hope this piece gives you the inspiration to try a different heritage for your own wedding. If it did, let me know! I would love for you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it.