Hawaiian Kapa

What is Kapa?

Kapa (or tapa) is the traditional textile of Ancient Hawaii.It was used for everyday clothing, for household use, for ceremony and for decoration.

Made by stripping, pounding and fermenting the inner bark, or bast, of the Wauke Tree.  It was a thriving, highly specialized and creative industry in Hawaii until the introduction of Eastern and Western woven materials.

The practice was all but lost, replaced entirely by imported textile products. 

How it's made

Because the practice begins with the planting of trees and the tending of the earth, mālama ʻāina, it is an immediate immersion into native Hawaiian values of mahiʻai, farming.

To then continue with sourcing natural dye and tool materials, growing them or gathering them, puts you in contact with your community, your ahupua’a, and teaches you to kilo, to observe, nature everywhere you go.

The pounding of the bark, mo’omo’o is meditative as you use your own hand carved tools, tapping out ancient rhythms, connecting to your ancestors.  It takes time and patience.

Designing the finished pieces with natural dyes and handmade stamps, ‘ohe kapala,  depends on the season and the availability of different materials. The  finished piece of kapa is an expression of cultural and environmental harmony and sustainability.


Then and Now

The first Hawaiians carried Wauke here, to the most isolated island group on the planet, and developed a Kapa industry that included the farmers, Kapa tool makers, kapa pounders, dyers, and designers.  With contact from the outside world, and in less than a decade, the Hawaiian Islands were completely transformed from a sustainable, balanced, thriving community, into one taken over almost completely by Western values and practices.  Kapa was quickly  replaced with woven textiles from America and Europe.  The practice, much like the language, was almost completely lost.

A handful of practitioners in recent history emerged through research, travel, apprenticeship, and practice.  Today, Kapa is grabbing the attention of many artisans worldwide, and is being practiced regularly here in Hawaii. Through trial and error, all of us Kapa makers  are still finding our way, learning our practices.

As a fiber, Wauke has the potential to go beyond the fabrics of our ancestors and to become something completely new.  Stay tuned to see what comes next!