Weav­ing ‘Lei of Aloha’ a ges­ture of love from Hawaii

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Carol Cling Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

They de­liv­ered a mile-long “Lei of Aloha” to Paris’ bul­let-rid­dled Bat­a­clan night­club fol­low­ing the 2015 at­tack that left 90 dead — and an­other last year to Or­lando’s Pulse night­club shoot­ing.

But this lat­est “Lei of Aloha” hits closer to home: Las Ve­gas, known as the “ninth is­land” be­cause of its large Hawai­ian pop­u­la­tion.

In re­sponse to the Route 91 Har­vest fes­ti­val shoot­ings Oct. 1, more than 500 Hawai­ian vol­un­teers worked four 14-hour days on mul­ti­ple islands to weave sec­tions of a mas­sive ti-leaf lei — with a to­tal 2-mile length — to honor the Las Ve­gas vic­tims and spread the spirit of aloha. (To put the lei’s length into per­spec­tive, the Strip is 4 miles long.)

That lei — and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of those who creat


ed it — ar­rived in Las Ve­gas early Thurs­day, ac­com­pa­nied by eight heavy-duty cool­ers, each weigh­ing 60 to 70 pounds and car­ry­ing a wo­ven lei seg­ment.

Down­town’s Cal­i­for­nia Ho­tel is host­ing the vol­un­teers — and the cool­ers, which are be­ing stored in a ho­tel re­frig­er­a­tor un­til Satur­day’s planned pre­sen­ta­tions at Las Ve­gas memo­rial sites.

Fol­low­ing a few hours of jet-lagged sleep, or­ga­nizer Ron Panzo, a Maui res­tau­rant owner, broke the tape seal­ing one of the cool­ers Thurs­day af­ter­noon to re­veal its con­tents: a coiled sec­tion of wo­ven ti leaves, ac­com­pa­nied by a cer­e­mo­nial shell “to pro­tect the lei.”

Ti leaves “have a sig­nif­i­cant mean­ing in Hawaii,” he ex­plains, hav­ing been “used in cer­e­monies for over hun­dreds of years. They pro­tect us.”

The group has al­ways made 1-mile leis, Panzo adds, but the Las Ve­gas lei is dou­ble that length, in part be­cause of the city’s ninth-is­land sta­tus and “the pour­ing out of peo­ple say­ing, ‘We need to get in­volved.’”

Vol­un­teers har­vested more than 20 truck­loads of ti plants, stripped the leaves and cooked them be­fore weavers sat “side by side, with their shoes off, shar­ing and meet­ing new peo­ple, pray­ing” as they worked.

“Even though we were thou­sands of miles away across the ocean, we wanted to send our aloha and heal­ing prayers to the peo­ple of Las Ve­gas,” Panzo says.

“That’s where it starts,” adds Le­hua Kekahuna of Maui, the spir­i­tual leader who will lead Satur­day’s pre­sen­ta­tion cer­e­monies with “a bless­ing prayer, a wis­dom prayer” and an “ask­ing of safety bless­ing,” she says. “We will be ask­ing our an­ces­tors … to guide us to do the right thing.”

Kekahuna, who also presided at last year’s “Lei of Aloha” pre­sen­ta­tions in Or­lando, says “it is more than an honor — it’s such a bless­ing for us to be here,” adding, “we’re a thou­sand miles away, but we feel ev­ery­thing you feel.”

Ev­i­dence of the close con­nec­tion: Fri­day’s 6 p.m. gath­er­ing at Las Ve­gas’ Te­vakanui Poly­ne­sian Dance Stu­dio, which will pro­vide “a launch­ing

pad” for Satur­day’s pre­sen­ta­tions, ac­cord­ing to stu­dio owner Henry Ge­orge.

Pon­der­ing the hun­dreds of Hawai­ian vol­un­teers who la­bored to weave the lei “shows how much love” ex­ists between Hawaii and its ninth is­land, Ge­orge said. “It tells you that they’re think­ing of us in Las Ve­gas.”

Richard Brian

Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal @ve­g­as­pho­to­graph Lei of Aloha or­ga­nizer Ron Panzo re­veals a sec­tion of a two-mile, wo­ven ti-leaf lei at the Cal­i­for­nia Ho­tel on Thurs­day.

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