kapa kulture

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

Archive for the tag “tales”

The Legend of the Kua Kapa

The Legend of the Kua Kapa
From “Nā Mo’olelo Hawai’i o ka Wā Kahiko, Stories of Old Hawai’i” By Roy Kākulu Alameida, Bess Press, Honolulu, 1997.

One day Kalei, who lived in Kahuku on O’ahu, could not find her kua kapa. She looked all over the hale, but it was nowhere to be seen. She asked her neighbors if they had seen it. No one had. She began to feel very sad because it was her favorite kua kapa.

Kalei walked through the village. She listened for her kua kapa. Each kua kapa gave a sound of its own that was either a high or low sound. Her kua kapa made a sound that only she could recognize. She heard others, but they were not hers. She walked to Maunalua, then to Manoa. She still could not find her kua kapa. After reaching Kapalama, she stopped to rest under a lama tree. She had been traveling all day and all night and she was very tired.

Soon Kalei was sound asleep. While she slept, a gentle breeze wafted over her. It carried a faint sound. She woke up with a start and listened carefully. Again, the gentle breeze wafted from ma uka. It carried a familiar sound through the valley to where she sat. “That sounds like my kua kapa,” Kalei said to herself. So Kalei started to walk in the direction of the sound. As she walked toward Līhu’e, near Ka’ala the sound got louder and louder. It sounded so sweet that tears began to roll down her cheeks. At last she would hold her favorite kua kapa again.

The woman who was using the kua kapa lived in Keanapueo, or owl’s cave, near Waikele. Kalei walked along the stream until she reached the cave. “That sounds like my kua kapa,” Kalei told the woman. “How did you get it?” She asked.

“I found it floating in the stream that comes from the mountain,” said the woman.

“It belongs to me. I recognize the sound,” said Kalei.

The woman gave back the kua kapa. But she was not convince that it belonged to Kalei. To see if Kalei was telling the truth, the woman followed her to Kahuku. When they reached there, the woman tied a bundle of ti leaves together. She tossed it into the stream at Pu’uho’olapa. After it floated downstream and disappeared, the woman returned to her home at Keanapueo. A few days later, she saw the bundle of ti leaves floating in the stream near her home. This proved to her that Kalei was the true owner of the kua kapa.

Glossary of Hawaiian Words

kua kapa: tapa-beating anvil

kapa: tapa (bark cloth)

hale: house

lama: hardwood tree

ma uka: toward the mountain

kua kapa o milo

kua kapa o milo

“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:

“KO TONGA MOUNGA KI HE LOTO” “THE TONGA MOUNTAIN WITH HEART”

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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