This is Waipao (part 2)

25 09 2011

Hau cordage in the making. Hawaiians scrape to clean hau fiber by hand.


The foundation of native Hawaiian culture consists of the ability to fill three needs: containers to carry things like water and food, flaked stone for cutting, and cordage to fasten. These were necessary to build a Polynesian voyaging canoe that reached the Hawaiian Islands.

With that important bit of information, Ken Ching on Saturday showed a group of us the native Hawaiian way of making cordage from the bark of the hau tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus L.).

We gathered at Waipao, the site of Papahana Kuaola, on the banks of Haʻikū Stream on Oʻahu. The Papahana Kuaola organization is all about involving the community in environmental restoration and economic sustainability, while integrating native Hawaiian knowledge. Its activities center on cultural and natural history. It’s wonderful, pono (right), and maika‘i (good)!

Making cordage by hand is a way to learn about olden attitudes of living, said Ken. When one went for a walk, for example, it was to look for materials that were useful and could be appreciated.

Here is my photo record of the day. You can pretend you were there, or perhaps you would like to learn more about Papahana Kuaola from its website and visit there yourself.

I came away with a little feeling of what it was like to live in olden times. I thought, maybe this is how it used to be and can still be if we live with Hawaiian values, learn from our kūpuna, and be thankful and kind to each other. I was happy for the people who are restoring the ʻāina (land) of Waipao.

First are some images of this place, the ʻili (small land section) of Waipao in the ahupuaʻa (land division from the uplands to the sea) of Heʻeia, Oʻahu.

Hāʻikū Stream at Waipao

Terraces and pohaku (stones) near the stream

Loʻi kalo (taro gardens) in different growth stages. Notice more land being cleared in the distance. Lunch included a delicious stew made with foods grown at Waipao.

The band of green across the equator of the photo is the hau thicket from where we gathered the raw material.

Into the forest we went to cut hau ʻili kea (young branches with light-colored bark).

Freshly sawn hau branches waiting to be stripped of their bark

Our kumu Ken Ching demonstrates the right way and the less desirable way to pa‘e (strip) hau bark.

Peel away both the outer and inner bark by pulling down and "close to" the branch (as opposed to "away from") and from the top down, our kumu said. Discard the inner branch. (The leaves in the background are ʻawa (Piper methysticum), not hau.)

Kahi the wale (scrape the slimey goo away). Ken sets the bark on a 2 x 4 and scapes it using long strokes from top to bottom, pressing hard. Fresh water, such as from a stream or city faucet, will result in a brown fiber. To preserve the whiteness of the fiber, use salt water to soften and wash away the wale (looks like mucus).

Shell scraper to comb out the wale (slime goo) of the bark.

L to R: Improperly stripped hau bark; mid-way stage of scraping; still slimy and not white enough, i.e., there are more brown areas left to scrape out.

Back indoors and after some lunch Ken showed us how to grade the fiber and twist it into cordage.

Ken Ching with a bundle cleaned hau fiber ready for twisting into cordage.

Separating the fiber and preparing to twist into cordage. Clue: You roll the fiber between your palm and your thigh with one hand, and twist with the other. It takes some practice.

Kaʻalua na kaʻakolu: Our kumu Ken made this beautiful hau cordage. He made more like it for the double-hulled sailing canoe Hawaiʻiki. It was an honor to learn from a master.

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke



2 responses

13 02 2013
Rebekah's Studio

Hau cordage is beautiful. Here is a link to Kimura’s Lauhala Shop in Holualoa on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I saw some hau cordage for sale there in 2012. It was just a small amount, hand twisted about the diameter of twine. You can check there. If you are thinking of the fat cordage in the last photo of my post, that is priceless, and I’m sorry I do not know where to get any unless you make it yourself. As you can imagine that bundle took a long time to make and was a labor of love. I wonder, do you have the hau plant in Singapore?

11 02 2013
Tan TC

I am in love with the Hau Cordage and I would like to own a piece of Hau Cordage. How do I go about to acquire a piece of Hau Cordage? I am residing in Singapore.

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