Kapa making is a lengthy process requiring knowledge, practice and skill as well as proper tools. 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 clothing In 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 Heavy woods such as kauila, uhiuhi, and `ōhi`a were used.
Hina, mother of the demi-god Māui was the great legendary kapa maker. Her famous son, Māui, accomplished one of his notable deeds, that of snaring the sun and causing him to travel more slowly so that Hina could have more daylight hours in which to dry her kapa. A Hawaiian legend about Hina and her tapa making. The sun always hurried across and did not allow Hina's tapa to dry. So her son, Maui went to sunrise and caught the sun's first ray and broke it off. Ever since the sun has traveled slowly allowing Hina's tapa to dry.
Fast growing shrubby tree with ovate leaves. Traditionally, it was cultivated in mostly warm, moist to semi-moist areas. Records tell us that it was regularly cultivated on sloping sides of valleys and well watered kula lands up to the wet forest zone. Records also tell us that Kona appears to have been one of the best wauke growing districts in Hawai`i. Today, wauke can be found throughout the islands within a wide range of environments. It is said to grow best in rich soil with considerable moisture and protection from the winds. It is propagated from the shoots that spring up from the roots of established plants and can be propagated from stem cuttings. When grown in close proximity to one another, they are not as apt to sprout branches on the sides of the stems. If side shoots develop, they should be removed in order to produce stems with unbroken bark. It is said that botanists recognize but one specie of wauke, but kapa makers speak of a number of varieties. One variety has heart shaped leaves that are usually one to three lobed (lau manamana). Another variety, pō`aha or po`a`aha has somewhat smaller, rounded leaves that are not lobed.
The inner bark of the wauke are said to make the best kapa Wauke saplings were cut when they had reached the height of 6-10 feet and were about an inch in diameter
Maikoha, son of Konikonia was banished to Kaupō, Maui for breaking kapu. There he was turned into the wauke plant. Maikoha’s body was said to be very hairy and therefore the wauke plant is the same. In another version, Maikoha was a farmer from Nu`uanu Valley on O`ahu, where he lived with this daughters in a place called Pū`iwa. When he became ill, he told his daughters to bury his body after he died close to the stream where a tree would grow. He told them that the bark of the tree will make all things good for clothing as well as covering for when you sleep. It is said that from Pū`iwa, this plant spread throughout the district and then to the other islands Over time, he became the principal `aumakua for kapa makers. One of his daughters, Lauhuki, became the patron of kapa pounders. Her sister, La`ahana, was the `aumakua of those who created kapa designs, both watermarks and patterns on the finished material Another legend says that wauke was introduced first in Keauhou, Kona on Hawai`i by Kāne to whom the plant was sacred
A large shrub or small tree that grows to 15 feet in height in open wooded areas or on the outskirts of the forsets Māmaki fibersmake a firm, heavy kapa, not as soft and white as wauke Some 19 species and varieities of māmaki are endemic to the Hawaiian islands. Sometimes, māmaki and wauke were pounded together.
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
Malo - LoinclothAbout 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
Skirt The women’s skirt or pā`ū was about two or more yards long and a yard or less wide. It was worn around the waist and extended below the knees. The visible portion of the pā`ū was usually decorated
Shawl/cloak Worn by both men and women when it was needed for warmth Traditionally worn in two ways – Centered over the left shoulder and the upper corners tied over the right shoulder, thus giving protection to both arms. Or it was centered over own shoulder and the corners knotted under the opposite arm. Often it was thrown over the shoulders and tied in front. Kīhei were usually decorated with attractive designs.
To construct a ti leaf rain cape, a fine netting was first woven. A cord was passed through the neck marginal meshes, knotted to the meshes at each end, and the cord ends left free for tying. The traditional netting for the cape in Old Hawai'i was made of olona (Touchardia latifolia) or hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) cordage. Usually made of olonā or hau – both canoe plants
Large ti leaves were gathered. The midrib, or bone, from the center of the leaf was removed from each leaf. The ti leaves were then split in two halves. The half-leaves were tied to the net mesh, starting at the bottom of the cape. Another row of ti half-leaves were added on top of the bottom row until the layered rows reached the top of the cape. The thatched ti leaves acted as a wick to drain the water down the cape. Also the heavy thatching insulated against the cold winds. Over time, the constant use, the winds, and the elements shredded the ti leaves on the cape. The green leaves eventually turned brown. This did not diminish the practicality of the ti leaf rain cape.
Hawaiian feather cloaks, known as `ahu`ula were worn with feather helmets. These were symbols of the highest rank of ali`i. Like with the ahu lā`ī, these cloaks are made from a woven netting – usually olonā – decorated with bird feathers. The coloring was achieved by using different types of feathers. Black and yellow came from four species of bird called `ō`ō. Unfortunately, all species had become extinct by 1987. Black feathers were also sourced from the two species of mamo, which are now also both extinct. The distinctive red feathers came from the `i`iwi and the `apapane. Both species can still be found in HI, but in much reduced numbers. When the feathers were collected, the birds were not killed, but they were caught by kia manu – specialized bird catchers. Accounts tell of kia manu who would prune the branches of the `ōhi`a lehua and place the sticky sap of the `ulu (breadfruit tree) near the remaining flowers. When the bird landed on the branch to suckle the flower, it became stuck. A few feathers were harvested and the bird would be cleaned and released. As you can imagine, hundreds of thousands of feathers were required for each cloak. A small bundle of feathers was gathered and tied into the netting. Bundles were tied in close proximity to form a uniform covering of the surface of the cloak.
LOLE Halau O Kekuhi, the first hālau hula to be outfitted intraditional kapa garments in over 200 years, performing at the 2011 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii. Photos: Adam Palumbo, Big Island Designs
PĀ `Ū Leipupu Stone wearing pāū hula. Photo courtesy of Wendeanne Keaka Stitt
KĪ HEIFrom left: Wendeanne Keaka Stitt, Roen Hufford, and Marie McDonald. Photo courtesy of Wendeanne Keaka Stitt