I'e kūkū. Barkcloth beater. A tool used for the second stage beating of kapa (tapa, barkcloth) produced from the bark of the wauke (paper mulberry tree). The i'e kūkū is carved from lā'au (hardwood) into a long four sided mallet. The form is square in cross-section and reduces to a grip that is circular in cross-section. Each of the rectangular beating surfaces of the i'e kūkū are grooved. Two of the sides are carved with lines of zigzags, one side is in a finely grooved grid, and the fourth side is incised with a pattern of fine cross-hatching. The i'e kuku is dark brown in colour and has some patina.
An i'e kūkū (beater) is used in the second stage of beating mo'o mo'o for producing kapa. Traditionally, an i'e kūkū is a carved four sided mallet where each side would feature a varied grooved linear surface. However, this can vary as well as its name depending on the carved surfaces of the beater. For instance an i'e kūkū could feature a combination of grooved lines and motif patterns. Depending on a makers intentions, the grooved linear surfaces contribute in how fine they wish the kapa to become. If there are sides that feature motif designs, this can be used to emboss the worked fibre to produce a watermark.
An example of a motif design, a popular water mark found on kapa is that of the maka ūpena. 'Maka’ meaning 'eye’ and 'ūpena’ meaning 'fishnet’, it is carved as a diamond grid with circular impressions, it implies the eye of the fishnet. Historically, the watermarked designs imprinted onto kapa can reflect the lineage or area of the maker. However like the maker, these designs can differ depending on their intentions.
The God of Hawaiian Kapa: Maikohā
This mo'olelo portrays how the wauke (Paper mulberry; Broussonetia papyrifera) and its intentions grew in Hawai'i:
“As Maikohā lay dying, he gave this command to his daughters: “When I am dead take me to the edge of the stream and bury me there. A tree will grow from my grave whose outer bark will furnish kihei (shawl), pā'ū (skirt), malo (loin cloth) and other benefits (pono) for you two"
His daughters obeyed his commands, and a tree did grow. That was the wauke, the paper mulberry. When the daughters saw it, they fetched it and worked it, beating the bark into cloth, skirts, and loin cloths. The sap flowed out, and wauke grew along the stream as far as the sea at Kīkīhale. That is how wauke spread in Hawai’i nei"
Lauhuki and La'ahana: The daughters of Maikohā
Compared to other island nations who produce bark cloth, Hawaiian kapa is uniquely defined by the various stages of beating, fermenting and watermarking. The daughters of Maikōha have a historic influence on how the wauke was processed to become kapa. Lauhuki taught the art of beating the 'ili wauke and her sister La'ahana taught the process of watermarking and use of 'ohe kāpala (Bamboo dye stamp) to decorate the kapa. Through their teachings they have become 'aumakua - ancestral craft gods.
Auckland Museum’s Pacific Collection currently holds over thirty three objects attributed to kapa. Like the flow of the wauke sap, there are many branches in producing kapa. This can be fibre sourcing, fibre preparation and fermentation, beating, decorative technique and most siginificantly: the fashioning of the maker or wearers intentions.
We would like to give thanks to the Hawaiian knowledge holders who generously shared their mana`o and sources surrounding the significance of Kapa. Additionally, we would like to honour the 'aumakua, who gifted kapa to Hawai'i nei.
• M.Beckwith, 'Hawaiian Mythology’. U H Press. 1970.
• T.R.Hiroa, 'Arts and Crafts of Hawaii’. Bishop Museum Press. 1957.
• S.M.Kamakau, 'Tails and Traditions of the People of Old|Nā Mo'olelo a ka Po'e Kahiko’. Bishop Museum Press. 1991.
• S.Kooijman, 'Tapa in Polynesia’. Bishop Museum Press. 1972.
• W.T.Brigham. “Ka Hana Kapa" Memoirs of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History. 1911.
• Personal comms. Kumu Auli`i Mitchell and Kumu Keonilei Leali'ifano. 07.03.2018
• wauke (paper mulberry; Broussonetia papyrifera)
• kihei (shawl)
• pā'ū (skirt)
• malo (loin cloth)
• pono (benefits)
• 'ohe kāpala (bamboo stamp)
• mo'olelo (story)
• maka (eye)
• ūpena (fishnet)