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Salvaging Lauhala

Hawaiian style lauhala lauhala hat Lauhala weaving papale papale lauhala Ulana lauhala

These pictures were taken over the past weeks and during my visits at Māʻona Community Garden.

 

I almost always forget to take "before" pictures.  The picture (above left) is an "after" picture but one would never know we actually thinned the puhala. The above right picture is the underside and one can see the stubs of branches we cut from the trunk.  It had been so tightly packed with branches that very little ventilation was causing the leaves to rot before truly drying.  The picture below is some but not all of the green waste.

With devastating invasive species such as Little Fire Ants and Hala Scale, I do not take for granted my access to healthy puhala.  When I have to prune or thin or even cut down puhala, I try to make sure something is preserved. Composting is great, but making an item like a water bottle cover, a bracelet, or pāpale is my way of remembering and honoring the puhala.

So I brought some green lauhala home to try boiling and bleaching.  There are many family "recipes."  I learned one version from Wes Sen, a cultural practitioner on Oahu who lived in Kona for a while, who learned from Helen Komo of Keopu.

Most of the videos I saw online used thornless varieties. I decided to try to dethorn my lau because I envisioned my hands getting torn up at each step if I didn't. That metal tool was an experiment and did not work well. I ended up de-thorning and splitting the lau in halves like I usually do with dried lau.

 

Kukaʻa of half leaves. (above)

Boiled each bundle 17-20 minutes until they turned dark green.

Hung them to dry in the patio. It probably took longer to dry because summer time is our rainy season. Below is a close up of some of the leaves.  One can see how white they are becoming.

My first try at smoking them with sulfur didn't work as the flames probably didn't have enough oxygen in the "smoker:"  A large galvanized trash can with a wire basket to hold the lau above the small tray of sulfur.  EH drilled some air holes in the bottom of the can for me.  Then I tried lighting the sulfur and closing up the can again.

The second attempt seemed to work. The lauhala seemed even lighter in some areas.  They also had a faint sulfur smell.  I've read and heard that the sulfur smoking process helps deter bugs from eating the lauhala.  I can smell why.  I was careful to put the smoker far from our house so we didn't have to smell it overnight.

 

I confess I was a heartbroken when I went to Māʻona and saw that a puhala that I had spent a couple hours cleaning weeks before had been cut down.  As I helped clear the walkway from the "green waste," cutting the green leaves from the stumps and piling to compost, I couldn't help but collect the dried/drying leaves from the branches.  Below is a picture of the bundle I was able to gather.

The brown lauhala from that fallen tree was/is beautiful in color and texture.  In the picture below one can see the natural brown color versus the "white" bleached color.

I stripped the salvaged brown and the bleached white lauhala and was amazed by the stark contrast.  I decide to make a pāpale anoni (two-tone hat) using the colors.  I will embellish the pāpale with lauhala flowers and use my kaula ulehala (earlier post).

The two tone piko of the pāpale anoni (above). The finished pāpale will be sold and proceeds will be donated to Māʻona Community Garden so they can buy lumber to finish the shelter for their worm bin.

 

I thought whoever cut down the puhala probably thought they had a good reason. They probably didn't understand the cultural and economic value of that puhala. It was in its prime as a mature productive tree. I was looking forward to its first harvest after the cleaning.  At least I was able to gather enough usable lau to make something.  One of the people who cut it down later came and explained to me the reasons they cut it down.  I think they felt bad after realizing how valuable a mature puhala was.  They had actually pulled up and discarded a seedling from that tree.  They went and dug through their compost and found the seedling, potted it, and gave it to me.  I tried to be gracious and said "Thank you so much.  In 10 to 12 years this little seedling will be like the tree that was cut down."  The shock on that person's face. Yes, it takes that long. I tried to quantify, "in 5 years I may be able to harvest leaves to make bracelets, but it'll be 12 years before I can harvest enough in one gathering to make a hat."  They were gardening at Māʻona long before I started helping with the puhala there. I accept their reasons.  There are other puhala on the property.  I'm still a little heartbroken though. 

And although it's still dirty from the compost pile, there's something hopeful in this little hala seedling.


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