In this lecture I will introduce you to a few of Hawaiʻi’s traditional art and craft practices as.
Today, the term hana no`eau is often used to mean arts & crafts. Hana no`eau is a very broad spectrum and encompasses all facets of life – from making weaponry, weaving lauhala, beating kapa, making hula instruments, etc. – everything was an art, a sort of profession. This unit will only touch upon a few of those hana no`eau. In this lecture I will introduce you to a few of Hawaiʻi’s traditional art and craft practices as mentioned above.
We begin our journey into hana no`eau with a look at kapa. More commonly known through the Pacific as Tapa is a cloth made from tree bark. This practice is not only found in Polynesia but also in Africa, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and South America. However, the Polynesian bark cloth reigns superior (this could be a biased opinion but it’s okay).
Kapa making is a lengthy process requiring knowledge, practice and skill as well as proper tools. Kapa is most often made from the wauke plant, shown in the picture above, but also made from māmaki, maiʻa, and ʻulu. Kapa production was so important that a separate hale was constructed or set aside for it – the hale kuku Preparing kapa was a woman’s activity Most commonly used for bedcovers and clothingIn brief, the process of kapa making consists of securing the bark from certain plants, soaking them until they are soft, beating them to the desired texture, joining as many strips as necessary to secure a kapa of the size needed, then drying and bleaching it in the sun In Hawaii, tapa (kapa) was made from wauke which was their primary clothing (skirts, capes, loin cloths, sandals) and for bed clothes, (being washable, warm, flexiblre durable and resistant to water). The bark cloth (kapa) that was made by Hawaiians bore unique features.
The bark was placed on a kua kuku or block of hard wood upon which kapa was beaten. A sounding cavity on the underside of each block gave each beater a distinctive resonance Hardwood beaters called i`e kuku with geometrical patterns carved into them, were used to beat fibers, leaving a watermark on the cloth Although this tradition extends throughout the world, Hawaiʻi is the only place that developed an extensive use of kapa beaters to produce watermarks, bamboo stamps for color prints, and a green vegetable dye and a blue vegetable dye were only found in Hawaiʻi.
Here is a close up picture of kapa. You can see the impressions on the kapa made by the i`e kuku or beater.
The most extensive use of kapa was for garments and bed clothing The style of dress was essentially the same for all classes, except that the chiefs and chiefesses were provided with better made and more attractively decorated garments
Designs were carved in a variety of geometric patterns were used for a form of block printing. Different designs had different meanings, but the true meaning was usually only known by the person who carved it.
In 2011, Nālani Kanakaʻole kumu hula of Hālau O Kekuhi together with He Hui Hana Kapa a group of kapa makers and practitioners came up with a concept to showcase and highlight kapa at the annual Merrie Monarch Hōʻike night. Shown here are pictures from that performance. I have also included a video in the lecture notes so you can see kapa in motion. It is no longer something that is simply hanging in a museum to view. The art of kapa making is a living practice today! Malo – Loincloth; About 9 inches or so wide and 9 feet or more long. Some were dyed in solid colors and others were decorated with more elaborate designs
Ulana – plait, weave Ulana is a practice that was commonly known to be a women’s practice. Its confinement to only women is not practiced today. Ulana is a plaiting craft that utilized natural materials to weave mats, baskets, satchels, containers of all types, hats, etc. This plaiting practice was practiced throughout Polynesia Lauhala – leaf of the hala (pandanus) tree. It is the most common plant used for ulana. Its leaves are used in its dried state. Lauhala is used to weave many different items, such as mats, pillows, baskets, fans, hats, etc.
Shown here is the pūhala, or hala (pandanus) tree It is often mistakenly called “lauhala” tree. However, the word lau means leaf. Therefore, the word “lauhala” specifically refers to the leaves from the hala tree.
Sought leaves that were flexible, of good tan color and sturdy It was vital to get good raw materials The quality of leaves differs from tree to tree and among locations In part, it depends upon the climate of the location. It must humid enough to provide adequate moisture to the leaf, but also sunny enough to discourage mold Lauhala was washed, soaked, then softened. The thorns and mid-rib were stripped Then the leaves were often placed in the sun to dry and to bleach It was later sorted and bundle, tied together and suspended to air out. Later, it was rolled into bundles which were stored until needed Kūka`a – rolled pack, as of lauhala ready for weaving
When making lauhala, the leaves were cut into the width needed and the strips were softened by drawing them over a hard edged instrument. Once the lauhala was fully prepared, it was cut into strips of uniform size and plaited. Puna district associated with mass growth of pūhala People of Puna were said to have one of the finest art of weaving Made into mats, fans, baskets, bedding, pillows, placemats for food
Kapa – quilt Kuiki – quilting We will now shift to a more contemporary hana no`eau, the art of kapa kuiki, or Hawaiian quilting. Quilting was introduced to Hawaii in the early 1800's when the missionaries started arriving, and the Hawaiians developed their own unique quilting style that incorporated Hawaiian plants and flowers into intricate symmetrical designs. Quilt makers beliefs, concerns, and emotions are often embodied in quilt motifs and names Quilts can also convey economic circumstances, political convictions, and social commentary. In every aspect of their creation and use, quilts provide insights into people’s lives and the kanaka maoli’s history.
Inspiration for many of the designs on these quilts came form the natural beauty found in the islands – flowers, plants, and the elements. The designing of a quilt was a very personal thing. Each quilt was given a name, often reflecting the inspiration behind the design. Thousands of fine, hidden stitches were required in order to applique the design onto the cloth. Yet this extensive applique was only part of the detailed work that went into making these marvelous quilts. Next the layers had to be quilted together. Sometimes straight or diagonal lines were used but more often echo quilting was done. This technique repeated the shape of the original design in a closely radiating pattern. As you can imagine, these quilts were extremely time consuming and demand a great deal of skill and patience.
Hawaiian flag quilts are among the best loved and most revered of Hawaiian quilts. Many of these flag quilts date back to the overthrow of the monarchy, when displaying the Hawaiian flag was considered a form of treason. Quilts bearing symbols of the monarchy were a form of silent resistance. It was a statement of patriotic loyalty to the Hawaiian nation and its ruling monarchy, Queen Lili`uokalani. Oral accounts tell of some kanaka maoli who would hang these quilts on the underneath side of the canopies of their beds during and immediately following the years of the overthrow. Regardless of its date of creation, the typical Hawaiian flag quilt displays four Hawaiian flags surrounded by a royal Hawaiian coat of arms or crown. My husband’s grandmother, Hannah Apo, was a premier quilter from the island of Maui. The quilt shown in the picture is one that she made, called Ku`u Hae Aloha (My Beloved Flag). Antique flag quilts fetch higher prices than appliqué quilts: high quality flag quilts may be valued at $40,000 - $60,000 while appliqué quilts sell for $9000 – $15,000. Factors that affect price include the quality of the original construction, preservation of the item's color and physical integrity.
Art and culture typically go hand in hand for Polynesian artists. For some it is not about creating art rather than it is about living a life that is rooted in culture. Art, dance, music, and culture will continue to evolve. What is contemporary today will be traditional 100 years from now.
Art for Life’s Sake
DYEING & PRINTING
• Kapa was dyed using
leaves, petals, bark and
berries from certain plants.
• It was then printed using
stamps made from bamboo
called `ohe kāpala
Halau O Kekuhi, the first hālau hula to be outfitted in
traditional kapa garments in over 200 years, performing at
the 2011 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai'i.
Photos: Adam Palumbo, Big Island Designs