Ka Ho‘oilina o ka Hala

Ka Ho‘oilina o ka Hala

Ka Ho‘oilina o ka Hala

The legacy of the “hala”

21st from the series: ‘Ike Ho‘omoapopo by artist: Leohone

Just like most of the words in the Hawaiian language, “hala” has more than one definition. I find it interesting to note that amongst its multiple meanings, “hala” can refer both to the passing of time and also to the prolific pandanus tree which has played such an important role in Hawaiian history.

The hala tree is native to Hawai’i. It was there before the arrival of the Polynesian voyagers and today still grows in abundance in the coastal and low lying areas throughout the islands. Its long, narrowlau (leaves) were used extensively by the ancient Hawaiians for ulana (weaving) and are still the most popular choice in weaving today. Since the sails of the voyaging canoes that brought Hawai’i’s first settlers were most certainly made of tightly woven lau hala (hala leaves), we can assume ulana lauhala to be the oldest and most enduring of all Hawaiian crafts – a beautiful, intricate art that has “graced” the Hawaiian culture for many hundreds of years.

I like the analogy of the past and present being plaited together – to think of a horizontal time line ofhistorybeingthestripsoflau halathatareplaitedtogetherwiththeverticallauhalaofourpresentday. Without this plaiting of the hala or past into the present, no culture can exist– the passing of time being an essential component in determining what is qualified to be considered a tradition.

Ulana lauhala is a craft that is most effectively passed on through teaching. In the centuries that have gone by since the voyagers came, weavers have made sleeping mats, floor mats (once so essential to every Hawaiian home), baskets, fans, sails, and much more. With the introduction of the papale (hat) to Hawaiian society in the 19th century, there has been an enthusiastic, uninterrupted “flow” of lauhala weaving – taught by highly skilled artisans who have passed on the tradition to their haumana (students) and who, in turn, have become the skilled kumu (teachers).

Hala trees produce strong, tough spine-edged leaves perfect for weaving. The process of selection and preparation varies, depending on the project. Often the dry lau are picked up right after they have fallen. For fine weaving, the young lau are picked while they are still white and straight. The lau are then cleaned and thorns removed from the outer edges and midrib of each leaf The lau are soaked in salt water to remove any dirt or impurity, and then dried and bundled into küka’a (rolls) which help to keep them flat. To make them more pliable, the lau are sometimes pounded. Lauhala strips are then separated by color. To begin splitting them into strips, the base of the leaf is trimmed and a narrow tear started.

In the early days, thorns on the long, fibrous lau were pulled off in one strip. The lau were then wilted over a fire and dried in the sun before being rolled into küka’a. The next step was to split them into strips ready to plait into the complex patterns that, through teaching, have survived a very great passage of time.

Ka ho’oilina o ka hala – the legacy of the “hala”… a me ka hala…


My spirit model in the foreground is master weaver Lola Spencer of Moloka’i (one of the original haumāna of Aunty Gladys Kukana Grace). Before I had the privilege of meeting her, I sat behind Lola some years ago on a Mokulele flight to Hilo. I remember that I was unable to take my eyes off of her amazing pāpale; I had simply never ever seen lauhala weaving so intricate and so beautiful!

My real life models are weavers Joette Comstock, Laverne Ku‘uipo Cullen (‘Ipo),and ‘Ipo’s daughter Laticia Ku‘uleinani Cullen Castellanos.

The physical setting is the same gracious house in Mānoa on O’ahu (1911) as the feather work painting, but the towering hala tree in the background is from weaver Suzy Swartman’s magical gardens along Kāne’ohe Bay (O’ahu).

Leohone 2018


Artist Proofs                                         28″ x 35.6″ signed “LeoHone” and numbered AP 1/75 – AP 75/75

Editions A                                           20″ x 25.5″                      ssigned “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288

Edition B                                             16″ x 20.3″                     signed “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288

Purchase Open Edition prints, here.