Oha’i Lehua: a Reflection on Beauty and Inspiration

The image has been kindly contributed by wonderful photographer and fellow alakai Astrid Mohr-Kiehn whose work can be seen here: https://www.amk-pictures.com.  It is an image of an Oha’i Lehua against the backdrop of the Kiluea volcano caldera on Big Island.

What is Oha’i Lehua?

The Oha’i Lehua tree is found in Hawaii and is the official flower of Big Island. Technically, Lehua refers to the flower and Oha’i to the tree. The Oha’i Lehua can take many forms ranging from tall trees to a small shrubs and it can inhabit both low and high altitudes.

The Oha’i wood is a hard wood that has been used to make furniture and weapons in earlier times and the leaves have medicinal properties. The Oha’i Lehua has wonderful blooms that commonly appear in red and also sometimes orange, pink and yellows. Traditionally hula dancers wear lehua blossoms in lei headbands.

It is one of the first plants that grows on the lava fields on the island. It can take decades for the tiny shrubs to appear after a lava flow. I recall how inspiring it was to see the first shoots of Oha’i Lehua emerging through the lava fields in Volcano National park.

Oha’i Lehua in myth and legend

The Oha’i Lehua appears in many Hawaiian stories and proverbs.  One legend in which it appears is summarised as follows:

Oha’i was a strong handsome man and Lehua was a gentle sweet beautiful woman, they courted and fell madly in love. One day the goddess Pele was walking near the home of Oha’i and spotted the handsome man and made advances towards him. As Oha’i was so devoted to Lehua he ignored Pele’s advances which infuriated the goddess.

Then Lehua appeared and Pele got even more angry upon seeing how in love Oha’i was with Lehua. In a fit of temper Pele transformed into a raging column of fire and lashed out at Oha’i transforming him into an ugly gnarled and twisted tree.  Lehua begged Pele to reverse the spell but Pele refused and left.

However, Lehua begged the other gods to help as she did not want to be separated from her beloved Oha’i. As a result, the Gods transformed Lehua into a magnificent red flower which they put on the Oha’i tree.

Of course, we know this is true as even to this day the Oha’i tree blossoms with beautiful red Lehua flowers!

The legend further states that if the Lehua flowers are plucked from the Oha’i tree it will rain heavily because these are the tears of Lehua who cannot bear to be separated from her beloved Oha’i.

Reflecting on beauty and inspiration

Images take us beyond the day to day language of words. Certain images can inspire us to reflect on beauty and move us at a deep level. The Ohai Lehua image provides an opportunity to practice ‘nalu’ a useful contemplation technique. In its simplest form this involves taking some time to look at the image, tuning in and noticing what you notice.  Stop when you feel satisfied that it is the right time to stop. If you want to share your experiences I would love to hear from you.

I am looking for inspirational images for the Huna Adventurer’s newsletter so if you would like to contribute please contact me at: pete@urbanhuna.org. If requested contributors will be credited.

Many thanks again to Astrid for contributing this amazing photograph. More of her images can be seen at: https://www.amk-pictures.com/

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