Hands-on Hawaiian kapa making for the SOEST community

Tools used to make kapa.

To learn about the traditional art of barkcloth making from world famous kapa maker Dalani Tanahy, nearly 30 novices from the University of Hawaii at the Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) joined the event. With funding from the uh Mānoa Office of Student Equity, Excellence & Diversity and the SOEST Maile Mentoring Bridge Program, the workshop was open to faculty, staff and students.

woman sitting on blanket on grass
Honor Booth pounding paper mulberry bark to make Kapa.

Kapa is a traditional fabric created from the bast fibers of trees and shrubs of Rosales and Malvales flowering plants and is mainly used for clothing, bedding, dresses and also as banners and funeral wraps. This craft involves removing the outer bark of branches, hammering the fiber into cloth, and designing and decorating the materials with symbolic prints.

Practicing the art of Hawaiian kapa for nearly 25 years, Tanahy has created pieces for notable figures, including the Dalai Lama and the King of Morocco, among others. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Bishop Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, and the British Museum.

During the workshop, Tanahy and his apprentice Kehau, shared the prevalence of kapa throughout Polynesia and the revival of the practice in Hawaii as well as tools used and examples of kapa from various Pacific Island communities. With warm encouragement from the kumu, participants were given the opportunity to create their own kapa from a small piece of a paper mulberry branch.

tools in the grass
Paper mulberry bark with tools used for making kapa.

Tanahy and Kehau’s passion for craftsmanship and generosity in sharing traditional art shines through every step of the workshop. Attendees were amazed and delighted to witness the transformation of a small, rigid section of bark into a larger, flexible, fabric-like material.

“Dalani and Kehau were excellent teachers, open to all of our questions, and shared the fascinating history and diversity of Pacific Island kapa,” said Noah Howins, graduate student in oceanography and event organizer. “I hope kapa’s workshop was just the first of many culture-focused workshops in SOEST in 2022. Based on participant feedback, there is a strong desire for more cross-cutting events that bring cultural practitioners together to share their knowledge.

This event is an example of uh Mānoa’s goal of becoming a place of Native Hawaiian learning (PDF), one of the four objectives defined in the Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (PDF), updated December 2020.

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