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Tactile Memories and Bugs Prefer Tahitian Lauhala

Hawaiian style lauhala Lauhala weaving

Tahitian lauhala is really nice to work with.  The lau is long and pliable.  Unfortunately, the way they process it, makes it susceptible and attractive to bugs.  In Hawai'i, we generally harvest lau that is naturally dried on the tree.  The dried out "dead leaves" are not as attractive to bugs, but they will eat it if there's nothing else for them to feed on. I do not know the exact type or name of the bugs - they look like little beetles but I've also seen termites eat lauhala too. It's heartbreaking to find insect damaged lauhala as I have to throw it out it in order to protect my other lauhala and fiber items.

They look like harmless little pukas...

But hold it to the light and one can see what the bugs do to Tahitian lauhala even though I kept camphor cakes in this basket. The koana (lauhala strip) is basically hollowed out and reduced to two tissue paper thin layers. Sometimes one can see the bugs actually moving around in there.  I couldn't see any movement but decided to not to keep it anyway.

So before I composted it, I made a smaller 1/2" koana version using my Kona lauhala for future reference.  I don't make baskets often. In items that I don't do often, it's nice to have a sample to look at.  It reminds me how to do things like turn corners or finish an edge. It also reminds me of who taught me, who I was with, or where I was when I made the item.  It's like a tactile memory getting reactivated.

Update:  After online conversation with weaver friends, I learned: one can freeze lauhala items to kill bugs; one can boil the Tahitian lauhala with salt water, dry it, then re-roll it for future use; one can smoke it overnight with sulfur; and there are very old Tahitian mats that were treated with salt and are still bug free.  Mahalo to my ulana friends, their manaʻo left me feeling optimistic.


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