THE VAST NUMEROUS DEITIES
What initially was intended to be the name of an exhibition culminating a year- long journey of nine haumāna practitioners from Maui Island at the Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House in 2019, has become a lāhui (nation) movement for Ke Kumu Hawaiʻi. Our commitment to offer Nā Akua Ākea weaving cohorts throughout the pae ʻāina (Hawaiian archipelago) and abroad, will allow kānaka (people) to delve into their collective past of ancestral memories to connect with their kūpuna for knowledge and guidance to learn ʻieʻie twined basketry; to hone their skills to recreate the kiʻi akua hulu manu, representations of Hawaiian ancestral deities.
These images are created from the inspiration of nineteen existing kiʻi akua hulu manu artifacts in the world today. Presently in 2022, we have a Nā Akua Ākea cohort in Hilo; with a Kona cohort in 2023 and the other islands to follow.
Raymond Nakama was an accomplished craftsman of Hawaiian material culture; weaving came natural to him. His many years of crafting hula implements and his sharp mind and intuitiveness enabled him to unravel many secrets of ʻieʻie weaving. Raymond spent many years working and traveling alongside Patrick Horimoto; sharing ʻike and space in many venues and public demonstrations.
Lloyd Harold Sing Jr. (Kumulāʻau) met Raymond Nakama in 1998 through a pahu drum and ipu heke workshop. Unknown to Raymond, he would learn of Kumulāʻau’s interest in ulana ʻie and became his mentor for 14 years until his passing in May 2014. It was Raymond’s words of encouragement that inspired May Haunani Balino- Sing to take up weaving and join Kumulāʻau on this journey of ulana ʻie.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Ching
The ʻIeʻie (Freycinetia arborea) vine is an indigenous plant found in our native forests in higher elevations between the altitudes of 1,000 to 4,500 feet. The vine grows upward to the tops of koa and ʻōhiʻa trees, and can have stems about an inch in diameter.
The vine has thin and pointed leaves that can grow up to two and a half feet long and, at the center of the leaf cluster are rotund and elongated flowers that resemble spikes. The fruits of the vine are orange with seeded berries. Long and thin ʻie, or rootlets, extend from the stem of the vine downwards, sometimes reaching lengths of twenty feet long before settling into the ground.
The rootlets can take about six months to a year to mature before they can be harvested; collected during the summer in ideal dry conditions. We were taught that it is a good practice to gather with a partner and to never go ma uka by yourself, always respect the forest. Over the years, we implemented our own protocol for harvesting ʻie: inspired from hula gathering practices. It was and is pono to ask permission to enter the forest.
We offer and engage in the following:
Offering oli kāhea
Pule for acceptance and protection
Hoʻokupu (offering) or clearing/cleaning the area Mahalo – offering thanks for the gifts of knowledge and ʻieʻie collected
The following steps share the preparation of ʻieʻie prior to weaving:
Sort and bundle rootlets by size (length and thickness)
Removal of outer skin bark
Cutting off of nodes (small pin like thorns)
Soaking rootlets in water to soften the skin to scrape off organic film
Splitting rootlets to half round pieces to create koana or wefts
Use splints from the middle portion of the rootlets as māʻawe loloa or warps
Dyeing ʻieʻie can occur before of after weaving a product
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (Ceratocystis fimbriata), is a fungal pathogen that was identified on Hawaiʻi Island in 2014. The fungus attacks and can quickly kill ʻōhiʻa trees (Metrosideros polymorpha), trees essential in the ecosystem of Hawaiʻi for supporting the growth of ʻieʻie. ʻŌhiʻa is endemic to Hawaiʻi and comprises approximately 80% of Hawaiʻi’s native forests. As of December 2018, an aggressive form of Ceratocyctis fungi, which causes ROD, have been confirmed to exist on the island of Kauaʻi.
“ʻIe weaving” is referred to a style of basketry weaving in which the rootlets of the ʻieʻie vine are woven to a flat-like plaited style that is similarly done with lauhala mats and pāpale. ʻIe also refers to wicker, that is, any shoot of a plant that is used for its pliability to make a basket or any other product i.e. rattan or reed.
Ke Kumu Hawaiʻi’s stance on ʻieʻie style basketry is focused on teaching and perpetuating the weaving of the aerial rootlets from the wild pandanus vine. Hui Ulana ʻIe o Maui learned this unique traditional basketry using split and round rattan reed in lieu of ʻieʻie rootlets; because of the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death epidemic that is harming our forest environment. As conservationists, it would be imprudent to gather ʻieʻie in areas affected by the fungus for cultural practice and use in this exhibition. We strongly support the continued education about ROD for our lāhui and, the importance for us to continue this type of Hawaiian basketry to preserve our ʻike kūpuna, however, never at the expense of compromising our ʻāina to be “authentic.”