kapa kulture

This blog is dedicated to Hawaiian kapa and matters related to Hawai'i nei…kuku kapa e!

Archive for the tag “history”

Hawaiian Word of the Day: kahiki

kahiki:1. Tahiti. holokahiki. Holo i Kahiki, sail to Tahiti. The sky was divided into five areas beginning with the term Kahiki: Kahiki-moe, horizon; lit., prostrate Kahiki. Kahiki-kū, sky just above the horizon; lit., upright Kahiki. Kahiki-ka-papa-nu’u, the next layer; lit., Kahiki the elevated stratum. Kahiki-kapapa-lani, high in the sky, almost directly overhead; lit., Kahiki the sky (or god) stratum. Kahiki-kapu-i-Hōlani-ke-ku’ina, the sky directly overhead; lit., sacred Kahiki at Hōlani the meeting place. 2. Any foreign country, abroad, foreign. 3. A variety of banana, common wild on Maui. Kinds are kahiki hae, kahiki mauki, and kahiki puhi.

Hōkūle'a me ke Kahiki

Hōkūle’a me ke Kahiki

Hawaiian Word of the Day: ho’okupu

ho’okupu: Tribute, tax, ceremonial gift-giving to a chief as a sign of honor and respect; to pay such tribute; church offering.


Ho’okupu for Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole Pi’ikoi. This statue commemorates Ali’i Kūhiō at Prince Kūhiō Park in Kōloa. A celebration for aloha hali’a is held annually to honor this great Ali’i who did so much for Hawaiians in his life (1871-1922). http://princekuhio.net/

Hawaiian Word of the Day: ho’oki

ho’ōki: To put an end to, terminate, conclude, annul, to finish, stop; end.

Proto-Polynesian: oti.

Stages of kapa-beating includes the final stage of ho’ōki, which requires using an i’e kuku ho’ōki with a watermark such as an ‘upena hālua niho mano, shark tooth with fishnet design.


“The Tapa” History and Process, Part 3

Throughout the South Pacific islands, each island nation has its own particular nuances in making tapa cloth, which distinguishes it from another. Traditional techniques were passed down and were a life skill in the community. Making tapa cloth was done primarily by women. It is a women’s art that has changed only slightly since ancient times.

Generally speaking, in Western Polynesia a piece of tapa was produced by pasting sheets together in layers and then joining smaller pieces by pasting to make a larger cloth. A heavy, coarse material results from this method. Whereas in Eastern Polynesia a felting process was done, pounding pieces into a single layer, without a fusing agent, or paste. Gradually a large piece of cloth is built up using this felting process. And a softer product is the result.

The tapa cloth in Polynesia begins with a basic process of removing the inner bark, or bast, from the trees and soaking this inner part in water for several days to soften and ferment the fibers and get them ready for pounding into thin sheets. The paper mulberry trees (wauke) are grown for this purpose and carefully cultivated. They are allowed to grow six to eight feet high until one to two inches in diameter. The trees are constantly cared for and tended while they grow. Young branches are broken off to ensure consistent, straight fibers to make smooth, whole tapa sheets unmarred by holes.

Special tools are used in the fabrication of tapa cloth. A type of anvil, a wooden block usually, is a sort of table that the bark is placed on and from start to finish, the tapa is pounded, or beaten. Techniques involve special shells used like knives to strip off the outer bark lengthwise from the tree, and to remove the bast. A selection of carved, wooden beaters flattens and spreads the fibers. Starting with a rounded club, moving to a grooved style that has four parallel sides, serving as steps toward finishing a smooth final product.

Additionally, Hawaiian tapa, or kapa cloth has a final step of beating, which leaves a watermark imprint on the cloth. This watermark is a unique carved design on a beater that served as the artist’s signature and finished the work in an important part of the felting process.

Kapa with watermark, at the California Academy of Sciences Natural History Museum, San Francisco

Kapa with watermark, made by Dalani Tanahy

Hawaiian Word of the day: hālu’a

hālu’a: 1. stripe, ripple; ridged seamed, streaked, wrinkled. ‘ālu’a. 2. Pattern on the surface of a tapa beater or tapa. This term may follow types of beaters, as ko’eau hālu’a, mole hālua, pū’ili halu’a. It also precedes types of beaters, as listed below. 3. Variation of hānu’a (thick).

hālu’a ko’eau: Design on a tapa beater consisting of one or more straight lines separating every two wavy lines. Gently waving, delicate parallel lines (the waves are smaller and less jagged than those of the ha’ao.

hālu’a lei hala: Tapa beater design said to resemble pandanus lei and consisting of interlocked triangles.

hālu’a maka ‘upena: Tapa-beater design resembling net mesh.

hālu’a mana mana: Tapa-beater design. Branch, limb; a line projecting from another line, forked.

hālu’a niho manō: The panels between the hālu’a lines are enhanced by regularly spaced small triangles. Lit., shark tooth hālu’a.

hālu’a pāwehe niho manō: Tapa-beater design. The triangles of the niho manō pattern are bordered by oblique lines (pāwehe).

hālu’a pu’ili: A tapa-beater design pattern: tips of zigzag ridges in adjacent surfaces meet and form sunken lozenges. (ko’eau, in which the ridges are parallel).

hālu’a pūpū: A tapa-beater pattern with circular motifs (pūpū), also kōnane pūpū. (pūpū: 1. general name for marine and land shells; beads, snail. 2. any circular motif as in tapa, kōnane pūpū, checkerboard pattern [with rounded pits on each square, as on tapa].

(Hawaiian Dictionary,Revised and Enlarged Edition. Pukui & Elbert, 1971).


Hawaiian Word of the Day: ola

ola: Life, health, well-being, living, livelihood, means of support, salvation; alive, living, curable, spared, recovered; healed; to live, to spare, save, heal, grant life, survive, thrive. Ola loa, long life, longevity. Ola ‘ana, life, existence. Mālama ola, financial support, means of livelihood. Nā kālā no ke ola o ka nūpepa, money for the support of the newspaper. ‘O nā lā apau o kona ola ‘ana, all the days of his life. Makamaka ola, a live friendship; a friend who extends hospitality and appreciation. I ola ‘ole nei keiki, this (beloved) child did not survive. Ua loa’a ke kāne a ku’u hānai, a ua ola nā iwi o ke kahu hānai, my foster child has found a husband, and the foster parent will enjoy peace and comfort in life and the body will be preserved after death; lit., the bones will live, i.e., the will not fall into an enemy’s hands. Ola ka inoa, the name lives on, said of a child bearing the name of an ancestor. Ola ka pōloli, hunger is satisfied. Ola ka mō’i i ke Akua, God save the king. E ola au i ke Akua, may God grant me life; so help me God. E ola au īa oe, save me, spare my life. ho.ōla. To save, heal, cure, spare; salvation; healer; savior. Po’e i kū’ai ho’ōla ‘īa, ransomed people.

-ola. ho’ōla: Small piece of tapa; tapa in general (Kaua’i). (Pukui & Elbert, 1971).

How Kapa Was Made

From Na Mo’olelo Hawai’i o ka Wa Kahiko, Stories of Old Hawai’i, How Kapa Was Made, p. 66-67. by Roy Kakulu Alameida (1997), Bess Press, Honolulu

How Kapa Was Made
After he died, Maikoha became the ‘aumakua of all kapa makers. Wauke branches were planted on all the islands. Prayers and sacrifices were offered to Maikoha. Soon each of his daughters also became an ‘aumakua. Lauhu’iki became the ‘aumakua of all the women who pounded the prepared bark from the wauke. She was given the power of finding kapa in the bark of the tree. She also had the power of teaching others how to pound the bark correctly. She taught them how to care for those who worshiped her. The other daughter, La’ahana, was worshiped by those who used special kapa ku’i that made marks and patterns on the kapa. Thus, Maikoha and his daughters were the main ‘aumakua of all kapa makers. But the other gods from time to time found new ways to use the wauke.

One was ‘Ehu. He learned and taught others how to dip kapa into dyes to give it color. He discovered that a red dye can be made from the kukui tree. Prayers and food were offered to him while the dyes were being collected and when the kapa maker wanted to add color to the kapa. There were kapa of different colors and designs. Sometimes kapa were spotted by sprinkling colors over them. Sometimes torn-up pieces of kapa were pounded together with new kapa to produce a spotted look. Sometimes bamboo was used to draw lines and figures. White kapa were used in the heiau to cover the images. When kapa was laid on an object, it meant that the object was not to be touched. Anyone who removed the kapa would be punished by the ‘aumakua. When kapa was hung on a pole and placed on a trail, it meant that the trail was kapu. A kapa dipped in black dye was kept for covering the body of an ali’i who had died.

Sometimes the sweet-smelling flowers or the oil from the ‘iliahi tree were pounded into the kapa. Flowers from the niu and hala and other sweet-smelling plants were placed in hot water. This made perfume. When the kapa was perfumed, it was dried inside a house. That way the smell would not be lost.

Sometimes kapa were well scraped with pieces of shell or rubbed with stones. Then they were rolled in dirt and placed in a calabash. They were soaked in water for a long time. After they were washed and pounded again, the kapa became very soft. Often kapa were spread out over cold, wet freshwater moss overnight. This made kapa very bright and shining. Spider eggs were often used to oil the kapa.

Hina, the mother of Maui, was a great kapa maker. Her kapa is spread all over the sky. These are the beautiful clouds of all colors. Sometimes they are piled on top of each other. Sometimes they are lying in sheets. Sometimes the strong winds blow and lift and toss the kapa. The winds blow off the stones Hina placed on the kapa to hold them down. Sometimes Hina throws off the stones herself. The noise of the rolling stones sounds like thunder. Sometimes Hina rolls the cloud sheets together. The folds flash in the light of the sun like lightning.

Glossary of Hawaiian Words

‘aumakua: family god (singular or plural form)

wauke: paper mulberry tree (Brousonetia papyrifera) its bark was pounded to make cloth

kapa: tapa (bark cloth)

kapa ku’i: tapa beater

kukui: candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccana)

heiau: temple

kapu: forbidden; sacred

ali’i: chief

‘iliahi: sandalwood (Santulum paniculatum)

niu: coconut (Cocos nucifera)

hala: pandanus tree (Pandanus utilis)

“The Tapa”

The Tapa
From my father’s side I am 100% Polish. On my mother’s side I am mostly Hawaiian-Portuguese. At this time in my life I am drawn to exploring my mother’s family, and my Hawaiian heritage that is part of this genealogy. These roots were nourished while I grew, through stories, visits to the land, food, relationships with my grandparents and aunties, uncles, and cousins.. There were two iconic artifacts that I remember well, even while far away from the beloved land of Hawai’i. They were with us in our home in San Francisco. Firstly, a large conch shell, luminous and white… It had a rosy-pink interior, and told secrets in the sound of the sea. Secondly, a lovely piece of bark cloth, about 7 feet long by about 4 feet high…an amber-colored, textured mystery from bygone days that often captured my attention. My siblings and I called it, “the tapa.” It hung prominently on a wall, next to a gigantic, over-sized spoon and fork carved from monkey pod wood. Those utensils could be considered a third icon…a story of colonial propaganda and a very unimaginative metaphor at that. So I am going to just skip that and move on…

When I was a young keiki, all I knew about tapa was that it was made from tree bark, and that it was used for clothing and bedding in the old Hawaiian days. I didn’t have any idea about the meaning of the printed designs, or the cultural significance. This piece of tapa that belonged to our family had come from a much larger piece. It had come to us first as a gift to my grandfather, from a Samoan friend of his. I don’t know how big it was originally, because my grandfather in turn had cut it into portions and given smaller pieces to his daughters and sons. My mother gave me her piece eventually. I have had it about 20 years now. Since it has been with me, I learned that this tapa that I have admired and treasured for most of my life, is Tongan. In its light golden brown and sepia tones the design is a print of hermit crabs, crescents, flowers, and wreaths spatially arranged with words written in Tongan. The words say:


In some island cultures of Polynesia, making tapa has become extinct because over the last 300 years, everyday products and personal articles that were once made from it, have been replaced by western-style goods. On the other hand, there are island groups who have never stopped their traditional uses of tapa and these countries continue in its manufacture. In Hawai’i, where language and arts are being recovered there are some cultural practitioners who are once again beating out the bark of the wauke plant, otherwise known as the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera). Beating this plant or others similar to it produce tapa, or kapa as it is called in Hawaiian. Island cultures of Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji have managed to continue producing tapa even in the midst of colonization and cultural disruption. It is from these southern Polynesian nations that much of the traditional knowledge is gleaned to make Hawaiian kapa. The practice of both traditional and contemporary designs and techniques was passed down through the generations and is coming alive again in its vibrant legacy.

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