Native Hawaiians are master crafters and practitioners.
Hawaiian featherwork experts made kāhili or royal standards for the Aliʻi or chiefs, as well as elaborate cloaks, shields, helmets, lei and deities. Each item was made with thousands of bird feathers of different colors. A gatherer would catch the proper bird, pluck 2-3 feathers and release the bird to prevent the extinction of the species. Today most feather works are made with dyed chicken feathers, although a kāhili made for the Queen Emma Summer Palace in 2011 was made with the feathers of the mōlī or Laysan Albatross gathered from Midway Island. The feathered cape and mahiole (battle headgear) of the Chief Kalani’ōpu’u was returned to the Bishop Museum in March, 2016.
Kākau is the traditional form of Hawaiian tattooing, using bamboo implements. There is only a handful of kākau practitioners in Hawaiʻi but the art is experiencing regrowth. It is considered a form of storytelling and genealogical celebration in Hawaiian culture.
Kapa is a type of cloth traditionally made by hand-beating the inner bark of the wauke tree, impressing it with patterns, and dying it various colors. In traditional Hawaiʻi, kapa beating was women’s work. Kapa was used for sleeping covers, clothing, and partitioning large hale or houses into rooms. Some beautiful artifacts of ancient kapa are in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Bishop Museum. Today, there is a vital community of kapa makers.
Lei are garlands to be worn around the neck or head. Today lei usually are made of flowers strung together, though traditionally they also would be made of leaves, shells, seeds and feathers. They are often given as a symbol of affection and shared at celebrations and family gatherings.
Ulana lau hala refers to the Hawaiian traditional art of plaiting or weaving pandanus or hala tree leaves. The mats of the Hawaiians were judged by Captain James Cook to be the best in Polynesia, and the mats of Niʻihau the best in Hawaiʻi. Mats were used to cover floors inside hale or houses, and to cover the imu or underground oven. Several mats piled on top of each other were used as couches or mattresses. Lau hala also was woven into fans, boat sails, and other objects. Today, ulana lau hala is a well-practiced art.