I was very fortunate this day to be able to spend it out at the Queen Emma Summer Palace in Nu’uanu. A new exhibit had opened called, “Quilts and Kapa” and featured some of the amazing kapa work as well as beautiful antique quilts dating back to the monarchy years of Hawaii.
I got to spend most of my time there sharing the art of Hawaiian kapa making with visitors to the Palace, out on the front lawn under the shade of a big tree. People of all ages stopped and were encouraged to try their hand at making their own piece of kapa and even printing it after it was beaten. Comments ranged from “This is a lot of fun!” to “This makes my arm sore!” to “I never knew this was how the kapa was made”. As people were able to view the many kapa inside the Palace, they were able to gain a whole new appreciation for the work that was done to make these traditional Hawaiian blankets.
An interesting fact about the sleeping kapa or ‘kapa moe’ as they were called, is that they usually consisted of 5 sheets, sewn together on the side. The top sheet, known as the ‘kilohana kapa’ was the only one colored or decorated and the remaining four on the inside were left in their natural cream to white color. William Brigham, a missionary who wrote extensively about Hawaiian kapa recorded that when he was visiting the summit of Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii, he had a kapa moe, and pointed out that it was too hot to sleep under, even in the freezing temperatures at the 12000 foot level. Kapa is not a woven fabric and does not breathe like most textiles do. Therefore the multiple sheets of the kapa moe were something of a temperature control device. On the cool nights you could use two or more sheets, while on warmer nights one would suffice.
During the days of the Hawaiian monarchy, kapa moe were given freely as gifts and Queen Emma was a very beloved woman of the time who no doubt received many such blankets from admirers and friends. I was personally astounded by the beauty and richness of the colors and details found in many of these kapa, and as a kapa maker, humbled once again by the amazing workmanship of the women of that long ago era.
I can’t help but be astounded at the brightness of the colors on these kapa that were made over 150 years ago.
Along with the beautiful kapa were antique Hawaiian quilts, these ones featuring a popular design of the day called “Ku’u Hae Aloha” or ‘My beloved Flag’ depicting the Hawaiian coat of arms and the British Union Jack.
This design is actually not painted on, but is blue and pink colored kapa, beaten onto the white sheet. This was a typically sized 5 sheet kapa moe or sleeping kapa.