One of Hawaii's most cherished resources is the Hawaiian culture. After years of being ignored, the Hawaiian culture is flourishing more than ever today. Part of the Hawaii school system are the Hawaiian emersion schools, where all children (not just Hawaiians) can attend schools from kindergarten through college taught in the Hawaiian language. And cultural events in Hawaii are very popular.

If you want to support Hawaiian culture, plan to attend such cultural events as Hawaiian music and dance performances.

Search out locally owned establishments. Attempt to buy souvenirs made in Hawaii by local residents.

If you visit a cultural site, like an ancient heiau (temple), the protocol calls for reverence. Be as respectful as you would at a cathedral or church. Never climb or sit on rock walls at a heiau. Never take anything from a heiau, even rocks, and never pick flowers there. You may see offerings of flowers or fruit -- do not disturb them.

How to Fit in Like a Local

Most visitors to Hawaii want to fit in and be respectful of the local residents. The best way to do that is to be friendly and practice the same common courtesy that you do in your own neighborhood. If you smile and are polite to local residents, chances are they will smile back at you. There are a few things you might want to think about:

1. Be super polite when driving. People in Hawaii do not use their car horn as a comment on other people's driving. Most Hawaii residents use their car horn only as a greeting to a friend.

2. Another driving comment -- you may be on vacation, but not everyone here is, so check your rearview mirror. If you are impeding traffic by driving slow, pull off the road. If you want to watch the sunset, pull off the road. If you have a long line of cars behind you, pull off the road.

3. Dress respectfully. Just because it's Hawaii and warm does not mean that it is acceptable to wear your swimwear into a restaurant. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: Would I wear this outfit to a restaurant or retail store at home?

4. Remember Hawaii is part of the United States, and is, in fact, a state. A good way to alienate local residents is to say something like "I'm from the States . . . ." Or "Back in the States, we do it this way."

The Welcoming Lei

The tropical beauty of the delicate garland, the deliciously sweet fragrance of the blossoms, the sensual way the flowers curl softly around your neck -- there's no doubt about it: Getting lei'd in Hawaii is a sensuous experience.

Leis are one of the nicest ways to say hello, goodbye, congratulations, I salute you, my sympathies are with you, or I love you. Giving leis is a historic custom: According to chants, the first lei was given by Hiiaka, the sister of the volcano goddess, Pele. Hiiaka presented Pele with a lei of lehua blossoms on a beach in Puna.

During ancient times, leis given to alii (royalty) were accompanied by a bow, as it was kapu (forbidden) for a commoner to raise his arms higher than the king's head. The presentation of a kiss with a lei didn't come about until World War II; it's generally attributed to an entertainer who kissed an officer on a dare, then quickly presented him with her lei, saying it was an old Hawaiian custom. It wasn't then, but it sure caught on fast.

Lei-making is a tropical art form. All leis are fashioned by hand in a variety of traditional patterns; some are sewn of hundreds of tiny blooms or shells, or bits of ferns and leaves. Some are twisted, some braided, some strung. Every island has its own special flower lei. On Oahu, the choice is ilima, a small orange flower. Big Islanders prefer the lehua, a large, delicate red puff. Maui likes the lokelani, a small rose. On Kauai, it's the mokihana, a fragrant green vine and berry. Molokai prefers the kukui, the white blossom of a candlenut tree. And Lanai's lei is made of kaunaoa, a bright yellow moss, while Niihau uses its abundant seashells to make leis that were once prized by royalty and are now worth a small fortune.

Leis are available at lei stands at Honolulu International Airport. Other places to get creative, inexpensive leis are the half-dozen lei shops on Maunakea Street in Honolulu's Chinatown, and Flowers by Jou & T Jr., 2652 S. King St. (near University Ave.), Honolulu (tel. 808/941-2022). They're also available from florists, and even at supermarkets.

Leis are the perfect symbol of Hawaii: They're given in the moment, their fragrance and beauty are enjoyed in the moment, and when they fade, their spirit of aloha lives on. Welcome to the islands!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.