Patterns of culture: Lehuauakea continues the tradition of Hawaiian kapa making

Lehuauakea, School for Advanced Research’s 2021 Ronald and Susan Dubin Native Artist Fellow; photo Garret Vreeland, Array Design, courtesy of the School for Advanced Research

Patterns of culture: Lehuauakea continues the tradition of Hawaiian kapa making

The techniques in making kapa a traditional fiber art of Hawaii result in bold and colorful linear and geometric patterns. Made from the fibers of native plants, kapa (or bark cloth) was used primarily for for clothing, bed covers, and banners hung with leis and bearing the images of gods.

Contemporary practitioner Lehuauakea, who is from Papa’ikou on Moku O Keawe, Hawai’i, continues the tradition, which they say (Lehuauakea doesn’t identify as male or female) is a form of storytelling, expressing mythic narratives and topics on historic and contemporary themes.

A Dubin Native Artist Fellow at the School For Advanced Research, Lehuauakea gives a virtual talk on their practice and a current project at SAR (660 Garcia St., 505-954-7200, at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 11.

Lehuauakea is an interdisciplinary artist who creates 2- and 3-dimensional works and installation art. They create the patterns in their work using bamboo stamps called ‘ohe kapala. The designs are intergenerational and represent origin stories, mythologies, and environmental relationships.

“Bringing them into my practice allows this visual language to move and shift over time, remembering the ways of living that birthed them in the first place while incorporating contemporary narratives,” they say.

The principle plant used in kapa is wauke, the paper mulberry plant. It was used in Hawaii for a number of functional purposes, but fell by the wayside as manufactured fabrics became more readily available. Lehuauakea is a member of a core group of practitioners who’ve revived the art form, which is created using handmade tools. The fine white bast (food conducting tissue) of the wauke stalks is traditionally soaked for a period of up to 10 days, then the fibers are beaten with mallets, which are also used to create kapas’ unique embossed surfaces. The hand-carved stamps are used for creating the designs.

During their fellowship at SAR, Lehuauakea is creating a series of hand-stamped kapa that range in size from 8 by 12 inches to as much as 4 feet in length or longer.

“By the end of the time period, I hope to have a body of contemporary-traditional kapa pieces that tell a cohesive story all together, touching on themes of ongoing political tensions, environmental stresses, and cultural perpetuation from a Kanaka Maoli perspective.”

Lehuauakea’s talk is free. Register at

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