I had a long conversation the other night with my new friend and kapa maker extraordinaire, Dalani Tanahy www.kapahawaii.com. We hit on topics up, down, and sideways…but guided by a set of questions I held in my hand. The purpose of the call was to understand her point of view related to things of “kapa kulture.” Some of the Q’s were theoretical, political, or cultural in nature. But the practical, …oh, the practical… how wonderful to get the scoop from such a dedicated kapa master! Her wisdom and expertise inspired me to revisit several pieces of my own recently pounded kapa which I felt to be under par. I was unsatisfied with the look and feel of these pieces. I had underestimated the work involved and the previous 10 or more hours was not yet sufficient time spent to pound the wauke fibers into soft and flat submission. The result was striated sheets which were stiff and cardboard-like rather than the papery softness I was aiming for. If it was to be worn as a malo or pā’u garment, scratchy and uncomfortable to wear indeed!
Back to my kua I went, taking my kapa with me… I wet the dried sheet with sprays of misty water. After careful pounding for a couple of hours, I managed to produce a softer, whiter, and more delicate specimen that was getting closer to the ideal proposed by Hawaiian historian, Samuel Kamakau, who had declared that the “well-made tapa must be clearer than the light of the moon, whiter than the snow upon the mountains.” Kapa making is not for the faint of heart or impatient, but as an art it requires careful labor and the time to coax a smooth and graceful hand from coarse, raw material.