Kapa and Hula Arts Entwine

Scientists recently discovered that the universe is held together by some sort of cosmic fabric.  I had always just figured it was our Hawaiian fabric known as kapa.  It was the only fabric, (actually a paper) known and used by Hawaiians anciently, until the arrival of foreigners with their cotton fabrics.  It was considered a lost art for nearly 100 years, until it's revival, which began in the '60′s.

One of its revival forms was in that of native clothing.  It was demonstrated in this form in a big way last year in Hilo, Hawaii.  Hilo is the home of the largest and most prestigious hula festival in the world, the Merrie Monarch Festival.  The 2012 Festival is April 11-14 and thousands of people descend upon this quiet college town expressly for this event.

While the performers in this hula festival have been using modern fabrics in the nearly 50 years of its existence, last year was marked by a joining of the arts of hula and a revival of the old Hawaiian fabric known as kapa or tapa, one that was lost and only recently brought back to light by a group of dedicated practitioner.

I was fortunate to be one of those watching the festival last year, especially because I had made a kapa that was among those being worn by the renowned hula halau, or group, Halau O Kekuhi.


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It was a great honor and thrill for the 25 kapa makers to sit on the front row and watch their hawaiian fabric come to life through the skills and dedication of the hula dancers. 

They performed some very old and traditional dances that were very energetic and exciting.  The audience roared their approval and the kapa makers sat in awe watching their own and the kapa of their peers as they flashed and moved about on the stage. 

Each piece worn by a performer was handcrafted; beaten from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, dyed with the natural dyes that can be found, gathered or grown in the yard, and then chosen by the kumu hula (teacher) to be matched to a dancer and to be worn for this performance.

What was it like for the dancers to be dressed in the hawaiian fabric of their ancestors?  Their evaluations were well reflected in this particular dancer's  statement:

Wearing the kapa was an honor.  I was very humbled when I was chosen to wear a piece and when I saw the kapa I would wear, my emotions were very ecstatic and I was quickly drawn to it.  During dress rehearsal I felt the strong energy in the kapa piece I was wearing.  And during the performance I was very excited, very honored, very confident and filled with emotions.  I felt extremely good about my performance.

A popular commercial says 'cotton:  the fabric of our lives', but here, kapa was the Hawaiian fabric of our lives, from the first one that caught you when you were born, to the one that wrapped your bones when you left this life.  I am humbled to be a part of this art revival, and to ensure the life of this art, and that it continues to be perpetuated through education and exposure through major events such as the Merrie Monarch Festival.