VIDEO: Master Practitioners Keeping Traditions Alive at Maui Fiber Arts Conference

September 8, 2019, 6:10 AM HST · Updated September 9, 7:18 AM
Wendy Osher · 0 Comments
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The second annual Maui Fiber Conference wrapped up in Kāʻanapali this weekend. The event, entitled Kauluhiwaolele, speaks to the esteemed groves from which fibers are gathered to fashion traditional crafts.

A total of 150 students participated in the event, where they were able to learn from 20 master practitioners of hala (pandanus), ʻieʻie (Freycinetia arborea), kōkō puʻupuʻu (fine carrying net for a calabash) and ‘upena (net).

“The idea is that the conference should really be a place that we are making more kumu (teachers),” said Director of KBH’s ʻImipoʻokela program ʻĀlika Guerrero.

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“So we realize that we can’t serve every student in the world. We can’t teach every young person or older person who wants to learn this practice; but what we can do is we can set up a place where students come and they get five days of intense learning from a kumu. And hopefully, they take that information back to their communities and are able to share it,” said Guerrero.

“We think that that is the best way to help ensure that these practices survive into the future,” he said.

The conference recognized the multiple ways Hawaiian plant material is utilized—from leaves to bark, sedges and roots. The various fibers are used to weave, twill, twine and knot material into baskets, artistic images, fishing nets, capes, and ornamental creations.

The pū hala (pandanus tree) is celebrated as an important part of Hawaiian family life as seen in woven mats, pillows, baskets, and the sails that brought people on canoes across the Pacific.

Pōhaku Kahoʻohanohano, a cultural practitioner and weaver specializing in hala, was among the kumu (teachers) who shared their passion for the art form with participants.

Kahoʻohanohano, who learned his craft from seven different kumu said, “Most of them never taught their own children or grandchildren, so I have a responsibility. It’s my kuleana to pass the knowledge on to the next generation.”

“In the past, all of this type of art was utilitarian. We all had to make something to use because we (could not) go (to the) store in the past. You go out in nature and it provides everything from the ʻieʻie vines in the mountain to the lauhala near the shore,” said Kahoʻohanohano.

“The whole reason we got to these islands is because of our lauhala canoe sails,” said Kahoʻohanohano. “And so I give credit to the lauhala for making us Hawaiian, basically,” he said.

Other materials and teaching techniques used at the conference included:

  • ʻIeʻie is an endemic woody, branching climber (Freycinetia arborea) which is made into the finest baskets, fish traps, and as a sturdy frameworks for other crafts.
  • Kōkō is the practice of knotting sennit to create nets and calabash net-carriers.
  • ‘Upena is the net structure to which ti leaves or feathers are attached.

Students learned associated protocols of gathering and utilizing weaving materials. They also started their journey by outplanting weaving materials such as: pū hala, ʻieʻie, makaloa, and ʻolonā to restore native forests in partnership with conservation organizations.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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