Bill gives Niihau leis
Leis with that label would
have to be made completely
from shells from the island
Pam Dow says it's the beauty and the luster of the Niihau shell leis that make them one of Hawaii's treasures.
Saturday, March 27, 2003
>> The state Senate Judiciary Committee recommended Wednesday that the full Senate approve Gov. Linda Lingle's appointment of Deputy Maui Prosecutor Simone Polak to the Maui District Court bench. In a story on Page A3 in yesterday's early edition, Polak's name was misspelled as Polack.
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The long-lasting Niihau shell leis are worthy of the same protections enjoyed by Hawaii products, such as Kona coffee, said Dow, owner of Forever Kauai and Waimea Canyon General Store in Kekaha who lectures on authenticity and integrity of the leis.
The Senate Economic Development Committee heard testimony like Dow's yesterday and passed a bill that would prohibit jewelry from being labeled Niihau if it was not made 100 percent with shells from the island and made within the state. House Bill 2569 House Draft 1 will go to the Senate Consumer Protection and Housing Committee.
The bill also would require items made with at least 80 percent of Niihau shells to be labeled with the percentage content.
Niihau lei makers spend years collecting the rare-colored shells, said Dow, who also sells the leis at Na Mea Hawaii and Native Books & Beautiful Things stores in Honolulu.
The retail value of Niihau shell leis can run from $125 to $25,000, Dow said.
Rep. Jon Karamatsu (D, Waipahu-Waikele) said he introduced the bill because he wanted to protect local business owners and to prevent fraudulent sales.
"The potential of abuse is out there," said Karamatsu, who also runs a small business.
The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs recently submitted testimony supporting the bill, stating that "these shells and lei are official emblems of their native land. Generations of Niihau families have collected and strung Pupu o Niihau, momi and Kahelelani on the beaches of Niihau and Kauai."
According to OHA, "Not only are the shells scarce -- with the collection of enough of some colors and types of shells taking years to make one lei -- but the craftmanship of these special lei takes much skill, precision, patience and dexterity.
"Commercialization of yet another treasured, cultural tradition of these islands must be controlled and trademarked as much as possible."
Rep. Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa), who co-sponsored the bill, said, "For me, this type of lei and lei making is traditionally associated with Niihau."
"There are limited economic opportunities for Niihauans. That's why the labeling of this is critical because when people talk about Niihau shell leis, they're more than likely getting a premium price for the lei."
The premium price of the lei is tied to its traditional craftmanship and heritage, said Morita.
"Personally, if I could afford one, I would expect that all of the shells come from Niihau and would be made from someone who has ties with Niihau," he said.