Lokahi Orian shares the art of shell lei-making at the Four Seasons
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina is a five-star resort on Oahu's sunny western coast. Set on the beachfront overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this luxury resort brings in artists and cultural practitioners from the surrounding westside communities to share their knowledge and craft with visitors to Hawaii.
Lokahi Orian’s long fingernails are not a fashion statement but are tools of his trade. They make it easier for the 22-year old Nānākuli man to manipulate a carefully selected set of tiny, delicate shells onto a sinewy thread, resulting in an exquisitely rare and valuable lei. To the rest of the world the key ingredient in these lei are known as Ni‘ihau shells. But Orian is quick to point out that there are many varieties of shell. The darker shells are uliuli; the yellow shells are ōlenalena; another are Kahelelani, named for the 17th century Ni‘ihau chief. Lokahi’s company, Ha‘aheo Hawaiian Crafts, is dedicated to creating and sharing traditional Hawaiian arts such as hana pūpū—the making of shell lei.
“I felt in my heart that I needed to do this and be the next generation that takes over from our kūpuna,” Orian told Summit.
He sought out a teacher to instruct him in hana pūpū. Orian found the right teacher in Kele Kanahele, a Ni‘ihau native and master lei maker.
“I just so happened to meet Mr. Kanahele when he was doing a workshop on O‘ahu. I attended, and the rest is history. I’ve been learning from him ever since. It’s been about three years now,” Orian said.
Kanahele lives on Hawai‘i island, in the cold and damp district of Volcano in Puna. It’s a world apart—geographically, demographically and climatologically—from his birthplace in the arid lowlands of Ni‘ihau. But the rare shells of hana pūpū are found only on Ni‘ihau, so Orian periodically sends the appropriate currency to the remote island to trade for shells: batteries, solar panels, whatever they need.
Orian traces his desire to perpetuate native arts to another teacher, Kay Yasuda, a master in a related artform, ulana (lau hala weaving).
“She explained to me that the knowledge of our ancestors is the heartbeat, and we are only vessels that the knowledge, the ‘ike, passes through on its way to the next generation. We use it for ourselves during our time here on Earth, but it’s always supposed to be a living, breathing thing. It’s not supposed to just stay with one person. It’s supposed to continue.”
Orian’s drive to perpetuate that ‘ike comes from multiple sources—from his father, who “dabbled” in the arts—from Orian’s kumu hula, Tammy Silva, as well as from Kamehameha Schools Hawaiian Ensemble kumu Kaleo Trinidad.
But he is made an even more effective vessel because of his grit and determination, which came early. As a boy Orian would wake up at 4 a.m. to make the long trek into Honolulu with his mother, and not return home until 9 p.m., after extracurricular activities and rush hour traffic. It’s a determination that is apparent in his pursuit of ‘ike and teachers, and his willingness to pack his car for craft fairs and to educate visitors and locals alike about his art. These are the signs of an effective vessel—and this is how the arts will endure.