September 5th, 2011 / posted by paularath

Colleen Kimura, owner of Tutuvi Sitoa and a textile designer extraordinaire, has always had a passion for lauhala. Now she can indulge that passion in her little shop in Moiliili with a special show of the work of lauhala artisans. Here she shares some of her knowledge of lauhala weaving:

          “Lauhala weaving is one of the traditional Hawaiian folk arts that Hawaiian culture can proudly include in its rich cultural heritage. Since the 1980s, lauhala weaving has been honored both locally and nationally, from the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Academy of Arts to the Folk Life Festival at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
 The show, Na Hana Lauhala (The Work of Lauhala) is an exhibit and sale of woven lauhala hats for men and women, handbags,  and jewelry.  The pieces and the exhibit are inspired by the lore and culture of lauhala as practiced by weavers today. 
            Hala is the Hawaiian word for the pandanus tree, a stout, thick-rooted, wide-branching tree whose parts are used in various ways by various cultures, especially along the Pacific Rim. There are hundreds of varieties of pandanus. Lau is the Hawaiian word for leaf. Lauhala refers to the pandanus leaf. Ulana lauhala refers to the Hawaiian traditional folk art of weaving, or plaiting, pandanus tree leaves. Many Pacific Islander cultures have a leaf plaiting tradition, though techniques, from selecting, to cleaning, to processing, to plaiting, vary from region to region.
            Since the early 1800s  lauhala weavers have always responded to necessity and fashion.  Because lauhala can be woven into almost any shape, weavers made hats for plantation work, hats for church, and hats that mimic the stylish look of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.  During the plantation days ( late 1800’s through the 1930’s) , weaving families made workers’ hats.  These were bartered or sold for money to buy items like bread, peanut butter, salmon, processed sugar – things that could not be fished or farmed.  Speed and quantity were surely as much of a priority as turning out a good work hat.  Today, in contrast, lauhala weaving has evolved to a point at which very high standards of design and craftsmanship often produce hats that are wearable pieces of sculpture.
            Lauhala weaving has been traditionally passed down from generation to generation within a family.  Signature weaving styles were sometimes kept as guarded family treasures.   However, there is a branch of weavers that ushered in change. These like-minded weavers, most of them from the plantation era, included master weavers  Aunty Gladys Kukana Grace, Aunty Elizabeth Maluihi Lee, Uncle Frank Masagatani, Aunty Esther Makua‘ole, Aunty Lily Sugahara, Aunty Minnie Ka‘awaloa and Aunty Elizabeth Akana (just to name a few).   In the 1980s the number of family weavers was dwindling and fewer people had the knowledge of weaving.  They realized that the tradition could be lost if  they did not actively work at sharing lauhala weaving.  This resolve to perpetuate their art led to a gradual shift in closely held ideas and a growing openness.  They reached out beyond family and friends to anyone who seriously wanted to learn.  Whereas it was once unthinkable to go to the home island of another weaver to teach, they began to give each other gracious permission to do just that. In the traditional Hawaiian way,  a student would learn strictly by watching and listening in silence.  To ask questions would have been disrespectful.  Aunty Gladys and other weavers started to entertain questions from their students.  Verbalizing got her to think about the steps in the weaving process and it made her a better teacher.
           Annual conferences and weaving collectives across the state began and continue today. One of these groups, organized on Oahu by Aunty Gladys, is  Ulana Me Ka Lokomaika’i.  It means weaving from the kindness and goodness within.  It clearly expresses the values that its members bring to their work and interpersonal relationships.  While there may be many weavers in Hawaii. this gathering of artists represented in Na Hana Lauhala  are part of an extended family of lauhala weavers who believe that sharing is the key to keeping the tradition alive.  You are invited to share their love of weaving and see their work in an intimate setting at Tutuvi Sitoa.” 

– Paula Rath

What are they saying?
Leave a comment below.
September 6th, 2011 at 1:31 am

Aloha Paula-
Was surfing the net and found this page. Was wonder if I could put a little blurb about your Na Hana Lauhala show/sale in the “news” section of I try to share info on lauhala events/things. It keeps the site current and people actually do contact me for more info (on the conferences, retreats, & classes) or looking for places to find/buy lauhala hats.

Will you be attending the Ka Ulu Lauhala O Kona conference later this week?

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