Kapa. Bark cloth sample. Made from the baste of tree bark from the wauke (Paper mulberry tree; Broussonetia papyrifera). It is flat and rectangular in shape and a natural off white in colour. Darkened impressions define the use of an 'upena halua pupu beater throughout the surface. When held up to the light this can be defined more by its transparency. Is light to handle. Its edges are uneven showing it was cut from a larger piece.
Auckland museum’s collection of kapa samples give light to the original qualities that attribute them to Hawai’i. Each one visually and physically demonstrates some use of the lapa, the 'ohe kāpala, natural dye application and unique watermarking techniques. Some are thick and some are as delicate as fine lace. Today, Hawai'i has seen a revive in Kapa making, acknowledging the diversity in process, production, design and transcendence of intentionality. It is important that we acknowledge the diversity of teaching and production among kapa makers:
“A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka hālau ho'okāhi." (All knowledge is not taught in the same school. One can learn from many sources.)
The God of Hawaiian Kapa: Maikohā
This mo'olelo portrays how the wauke (Paper mulberry; Broussonetia papyrifera) and its intentions grew in Hawai'i.
The story of the Hawaiian God of Kapa: Maikohā, portrays how the wauke (Paper mulberry; Broussonetia papyrifera) and its intentions grew:
“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" (S.M.Kamakau. “Tales and Traditions of the People of Old|Nā Mo'olelo a ka Po'e Kahiko."1991.p.14)
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
• mo'olelo (story)
• wauke (paper mulberry; broussonetia papyrifera)
• kihei (shawl)
• pā'u (skirt)
• malo (loin cloth)
• pono (benefits)
• 'ohe kāpala (bamboo stamp)