Ancient art of producing kapa thrives amid cultural reawakening

Maoli Arts Movement 2017
Text Summit Staff

Moana Kalikookalani McPherson Eisele is a Hawaiian cultural practitioner working with kapa and one of three 2017 Maoli Arts Movement (MAMo) awardees. Eisele was born into a mixed Hawaiian family during a very different time in Hawai‘i. Living close to the ocean instilled within her a deep respect for island life. The influences of island life and the practicality of using available resources led to the beginning of a reawakening of the cultural practice of making Hawaiian kapa.

In 1978, Dennis Kana‘e Keawe agreed to mentor Hawaiian civic club members in growing wauke (Broussonetia papyrifera), making wooden kapa tools and beating a small swatch of watermarked kapa. While other cultures also make barkcloth, Hawaiian kapa is noted for the surface design of watermarking, intricate prints and a full pallet of color. The values of ahonui (patience), kuleana (responsibility), hō‘ihi (respect), mālama (care) and laulima (cooperation) influence the creation of useful and practical pieces of kapa.

The labor intensive processes Eisele uses to make Hawaiian kapa naturally incorporate opportunities to express her Hawaiian ancestry and environment. Traditional symbols of plants, ocean, sky, mountains, birds, fish and many other natural elements are hand carved onto ‘ohe kāpala (bamboo printers).

Although the future of cultural practice in some indigenous communities faces constant struggle, Eisele's devotion to making kapa has contributed to the reawakening of a valuable Hawaiian practice—highly prized in the past, cherished in the present. Through exhibitions, demonstrations and lectures on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, Molokai, Lāna‘i and Hawai‘i island in public and private schools, museums, hotels and numerous cultural organizations, Hawaiian kapa thrives. Through cultural exchanges in Japan, Korea, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, American Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Guam, Hawaiian kapa is perpetuated into the future.

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