On my last visit to Oahu, I ended up at a University Men’s Volleyball Game and, before sitting down, was handed a long, slim green leaf. I was told it was a “Ti Leaf” and I was supposed to use it to cheer for the team.
Now, I will admit that I heard “tea” and not “ti”, which confused me because I was pretty sure that there is now way that you could (or would want to) dry and steep that leaf to make a warm drink. But, since no one else found this strange, I bit my tongue and headed to my seat. It seemed like everyone in the arena had at least one Ti Leaf in-hand that they had peeled to create a pom-pom-like leaf that everyone shook at various points during the game — I had never seen anything like it.
What are these leaves, you ask, and why do they make an appearance at major sports events?
Where do Ti Leaves come from?
Ti leaves come from (you guessed it) a Ti Plant. These plants were originally brought to the islands of Hawaii by the Polynesians, who considered them to have divine power.
What is the meaning of Ti Leaves to Hawaiians?
In traditional Hawaiian culture, Ti Leaves are considered to be sacred to Lono, the Hawaiian God of fertility and Laka, the Goddess of Hula. The leaves are also used by Kahuna priests to ward off evil and bring in good spirits.
Today, Hawaiians continue to believe that Ti Plants bring good luck and ward off evil.
How are Ti Leaves used?
Food + drink (historical use)
The root of the Ti Plant used to be steamed in ovens in the ground and then eaten as a sweet or dessert. The root was also often fermented and distilled to make ökolehao — a type of brandy. The leaves are also often used as wrap food or as plates.
Medicinal use (historical use)
When the leaves are boiled, the resulting water can aid in nerve and muscle relaxation. Ancient Hawaiians also used to use the leave to wrap around hot stones to use as a hot pack.
To ward off evil and bring good luck
It is believed that if you wear a Ti Leaf lei, hula skirt, or necklace it will ward off evil. Carrying a single leaf (or using it to cheer on your favourite Hawaiian sports team) is considered to be good luck. Many Hawaiians also believe that planting Ti Plants around their home will bring good luck into the house. You will also find that many hotels on the islands have Ti Plants planed on their grounds.
Because Ti leaves are thought to have an intense spiritual energy, there are some that will use four leaves (a sacred number) to bring a sense of peace during meditation practices.