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Variety of natural and synthetic dyed kapa
Variety of natural and synthetic dyed kapa  , printed with ' ole kapala  (bamboo stamps)

Kapa (Traditional Hawaiian Bark Cloth Production and Design)

Made from wauke, the paper mulberry plant, by a time-consuming, labor-intensive method, Hawaiian kapa (bark cloth) had many useful functions in everyday life in early Hawaii. Because of the time and effort required in its making, kapa was quickly replaced in modern Hawaii with new durable, easily manufactured fabrics. But the making of kapa continues, the craft practiced by a devoted group seeking to revive the venerable traditions of the Hawaiian culture. Under the tutelage of Dennis Kana'e Keawe, members of the Pearl Harbor, Princess Ka'iulani and Pu'uloa Hawaiian Civic Clubs learned the art of kapa- making.

Kapa tools -- stone anvils, wooden anvils, round wooden mallets, and square wooden mallets -- are not commercially available and must be fashioned by hand. They are used to beat the fiber and give it the distinctive watermarked design inherent in the fabric, and bamboo stamps are carved to create unique designs on the surface of the cloth. Watermarking, embossed patterns created by beating the kapa with mallets into which designs are carved, is considered unique to Hawaiian kapa.

The process of making kapa begins with the cultivation of wauke, raised in plantation-like areas and nurtured to grow straight and tall for twelve months. Mature stalks are cut close to the ground to encourage further growth and are harvested when they are about one to two inches in diameter. The brown and green layers of the stalk are scraped away, revealing a fine white layer called the "bast." After the bast is soaked for up to ten days, then beaten with a mallet, it is placed in ti or banana leaves in a warm, shady spot to ferment. Bast fibers require a fermentation stage to allow the fibers to float freely, resulting in a felted, matted, seamless mass. The fermentation process is essential to the quality and texture of the finished cloth. A second stage of processing requires many more hours of beating, shaping and stretching the fiber pieces.

Using traditional natural as well as modern dyes, the kapa cloth is then dyed in a rich assortment of colors. Before Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778, he collected kapa with large, rudimentary brushed-on designs. After Hawaii's contact with the outside world, kapa designs evolved into more intricate and regular geometric patterns. The final stage in the process involves imparting a fragrance to the fabric using plant materials such as wood chips or blossoms, in order to mask the distinct odor of fermented fiber.

The project is documented with a written report of seven pages, a bibliography, fifteen photographs with descriptions, and a newspaper article.

Originally submitted by: Daniel K. Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Senator Neil Abercrombie, Representative (1st District) & Patsy T. Mink,Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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