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The Collective Spirit of the Hawaiian Culture

Recently, I went to “The Collective Spirit of the Hawaiian Culture,” an event put on by the Kauai chapter of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association (HLTA) at the Grand Hyatt Kauai in Poipu. Wanting to stimulate knowledge and to share culture, the HLTA flew artists in from all over the state so visitors could make traditional handcrafts while learning Hawaiian history.(Left) Kukui kahele po, stone lantern with kukui oil. (Right) Kekai Kapu teaches people how to make traditional tools and weapons.

We began by participating in an awa (kava) ceremony. This ceremony rekindles ancient Polynesian traditions that go back thousands of years when Hawaiians drank awa at political meetings, celebrations and spiritual ceremonies.

After a pule (a prayer blessing the event), we had a Hawaiian breakfast that included fresh fruit, eggs, sausage and taro. With a full belly, I scoped out nine tables overflowing with craft supplies. I needed to figure out what I wanted to make.

Each artist had his or her own way of sharing the Hawaiian culture with participants. Solomon Apio talked story while making niho oki, a shark’s tooth utility knife. I wanted to make an umeke, a tool used in salt gathering. Anake Janet Kahalekomo shared her ohana’s (family’s) history harvesting salt from Hanapepe. Everyone who attended received some of this salt, which is very special because it’s usually only given as a gift; it can’t be bought in stores.(Left) Painting kapa cloth with Verna Takashima. (Right) Anake Janet Kahalekomo makes an umeke.

Kumu (teacher) Kekoa talked about native plants and how they relate to hula and Hawaiian lifestyle. Verna Takashima made and designed kapa, a cloth from the bark of a Paper Mullberry tree. Kumu Kahai Topolinski taught hula and olapa, (chants).

Mayette Losetto wove endemic plants into kupee, sweet-smelling bracelets, anklets and headdresses. Gordon Kai made aho, sennit cord necklaces while stone on stone tapping sounds came from Kekai Kapu, who made kukui kahele po, or stone lanterns. When lit, the lanterns help new spirits find their way to heaven.

I wish the event lasted more than one day because I wanted to experience everything. In the end, I decided to spend the day with Cindy Whitehawk making a lauhala bracelet (story to follow). The simple technique, in which the leaves of the hala tree are used, (lau means leaf) was employed by ancient Hawaiians to make the sails of canoes, mats and pillows.

(Left) Me wearing kupee. (Right) Lauhala bracelets that my husband and I made. He also wove the aho.

The day wove a mystical spell around me, and as I plaited the nimble hala leaves and listened to the pounding of lava into lantern, the sound and movements put me into a state of relaxation. I imagined what life was like on Hawaii 3,000 years ago.

Photo Credit: Daniel Lane

Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Nov 11, 2011