Memories of ‘a Renaissance Lei Maker’

Meleana Estes gathered stories from her grandmother and others on the art of making the islands’ traditional garlands.

In the 1990s when Meleana Estes was a teenager attending Punahou School in Honolulu (President Barack Obama’s alma mater), she had a steady job picking the fragrant yellow flowers from the pua kenikeni trees that bloomed in her grandmother’s backyard.

“I think she paid me $10 per day,” Ms. Estes recalled during a recent phone interview. Her maternal grandmother, Amelia Ana Ka‘opua Bailey, was a seamstress and costume designer by trade, but stringing flowers, vines and other plants into leis, the garlands synonymous with Hawaii, was her passion.

“Because she learned her signature wili

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