Moʻolelo (stories) of Aloha Modern's Designs


Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, Sovereignty Restoration Day, is honored annually on July 31st, the holiday remembers a time before American occupation of Hawai‘i. The words “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono” were first uttered by Kamehameha III on July 31, 1843. " The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated through righteousness." He addressed his people at Thomas Square in Honolulu after independence was restored to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i following five months of British occupation. 


Mahina, moon, organized Hawaiian time with the passing of each moon phase was the passing of each day. Hina, the goddess who in the long ago made her home in the great cave beneath Rainbow Falls, was especially gifted in the art of tapa making. She looked to the heavens and determined to flee up the pathway of her rainbow through the clouds to the sun to escape her husband. The heat from the sun was so great that she began to feel the fire shriveling and torturing her. She then retreated to the moon. Comforted by the cool night, it is here she found peace. When the moon is full, kanaka would look into the quiet, white light and see the goddess creating her kapa in her celestial home.


The Kumulipo tells us that the ko‘a, sea coral, was the first physical being to be born. The pūko‘a, coral head, grew providing protection for the sea cucumber, sea urchin, barnacle and mussel. The coral was the first foundation for land, rising from the sea. The pattern describes the reef life who call pūko‘a home. From this story we learn that life in the sea and life on land are connected, and what we do on land has a direct connection and impact on all organisms in the sea. He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina. A coral reef that grows into an island.


Naʻi Aupuni, the conqueror, is endearingly used for Kamehameha Nui or Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha is an icon in Hawaiian history and is known for unifying the Hawaiian Kingdom under one reign through his acquisition of mana (spiritual power) both politically and physically. Represented in the design are the ʻahu ʻula (feather cloaks) of the chiefs who were significant in their own right, but were also part of Kamehameha's mo'olelo to greatness.


Arriving by canoe with early Polynesian voyagers, Hawaiians used coconut-husk fibers to make braided or twisted ‘aha, a tough, all-purpose cordage. The fronds became thatch; the leaflets became mats, baskets and fans. They turned coconut shells into containers, spoons and hula instruments, and hollowed out the stems (or trunks) to make big pahu (drums) and little canoes. Oil from roasted coconut meat was used as a body rub and rendered into perfumed dyes for kapa cloth. Famously, Kamehameha set up his seat of power at Helumoa in 1795 at the mouth of ‘Apuakēhau stream. He planted niu (coconut) and built a stone house and held sporting contests beneath the famous coconut grove’s canopy. In the late 19th century, his great-granddaughter, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, willed the lands of Helumoa to a trust, and subsequent urbanization rapidly reduced the grove’s size. 


The word Hilo has multiple meanings, but one of the main definitions is "to braid or twist." Hilo was also the name of a famous navigator. Lastly, Hilo is the first, or new moon, and it was derived from the earlier two meanings. As the slender new moon sets in the western sky it often has a twisted appearance thus having the name Hilo. Because this is the first moon it acts as a navigator for the moons to follow. Traditionally it was felt that this was a good moon for deep sea fishing but bad for reef fishing and gathering of any below ground roots and vegetables. Hilo is also a type of grass, mau‘u hilo, as well as a variety of sweet potato.


ʻŌiwi were keen observers of the natural world. One of the many hana noʻeau practices that was both continued and adapted in the islands was the making of kaula (cordage). Kaula was a foundational part of many of the tools and operations of daily life. Used to lash waʻa (canoes), holding the timber frame of a hale, woven to create ʻupena (fishnet), even the foundation of creating ʻahuʻula (feather capes) worn by aliʻi for centuries. Cords have always connected generations, from one’s piko physically linking one generation to the next, to the actual practice of the art form. Today cords are linking more distant generations. The making of cordage, so valued a skill in past centuries, is one of the many traditional practices that have found eager current-day haumāna.


The Hawaiian sandalwood trade was brief but left a major imprint on the pae ‘āina. Hawai‘i was once known as Tahn Heung Sahn, the Sandalwood Mountains, nicknamed by early trading ships going to and from China. Forests ran from mountain to sea, populated with four native sandalwood species, including one endemic to Haleakalā’s slopes. After years of cutting the sandalwood on O‘ahu and Maui, Kamehameha went to Hawai‘i to cut sandalwood as, perhaps on that large island, it grew wild everywhere on the mountains of the great Hawai‘i of Keawe. This return of Kamehameha to Hawai‘i was called the journey of Kanī‘aukani. ‘Iliahi rapidly disappeared from Hawaiian forests in the decades after Kamehameha’s passing with the implementation the sandalwood tax and the trade disappearing with the last of the trees.


The nine channels that connect the islands of our pae ‘āina each have unique names and characteristics. The ʻAlenuihāhā (great billows smashing) Channel separates Hawai‘i and Maui. The ʻAlalākeiki (crying baby) Channel separates the islands of Kahoʻolawe and Maui. The Kealaikahiki Channel is the channel between Lāna‘i and Kahoʻolawe. It literally means "the road to Tahiti" and it was thought if one takes a bearing off Kealaikahiki Point on Kahoʻolawe the channel faces Tahiti. The ʻAuʻau Channel is one of the most protected areas of ocean in the Hawaiian Islands, lying between Lānaʻi and Maui. ʻAuʻau translates to "to take a bath" referring to its calm bath-like conditions. The Pailolo Channel separates the islands of Molokaʻi and Maui, named after the crazy fishermen who would dare to traverse these rough waters. The Kalohi (the slowness) Channel is the stretch of water separating Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi. The Kaiwi (the bone) Channel separates the islands of O‘ahu and Moloka‘i. The Kaʻieʻie Waho Channel separates the islands of Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. Kaʻieʻie Waho means "Outer Kaʻieʻie," named after the ʻieʻie vine. The Kaulakahi Channel separates the islands of Niʻihau and Kauaʻi, translating to "the single flame” representative of the streaks of sunset colors.


In ancient times, an elderly couple living near Kamōʻiliʻili had no water to grow their crops. They had to go to the mountains in search of food and travel to the lowlands for water. One night, an answer to their problem came to the old woman in a dream, and her husband had a similar dream the following night. They took the dream as a sign and made offerings to their ʻaumakua (family guardian) at the base of a hala tree and the old man then pulled up the tree and water spouted out from a spring under the trees massive roots. Ka puna hou, or the new spring, brought water to the numerous lo‘i in the area. It is from these events that the area was blessed with a sufficient supply of food and water for generations to come. This very spring still exists today in Honolulu.


The ‘upena (fishnet) were traditionally only used by lawai‘a ( fishermen), a practice passed down from generation to generation. Traditionally made from hau or olonā fibers, kūpuna would teach haumāna the practices of gathering, ihi (soaking), hoʻopulu (soaking), drying (hoʻomaloʻo), hoʻokahi (combing), hoʻokoe (separating), mea wili (twine), wili aho (cordage), to then weave to create an array of net types. O ka Oihana Lawaia no hoi ma ka wa kahiko loa mai a ko kakou aina, he oihana ia i manao nui loa ia e na alii aloha o kakou o ka manawa kahiko, a he oihana punahele pu no hoi e ao ia ai e na Makua i ka lakou mau keiki; Fishing was an ancient art in our land, an art that was very important to our beloved chiefs in olden times. A favorite art, taught to their sons by the parents.


In the story of travels by Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, there is a mo‘olelo in which the goddess Hi‘iaka watches young wahine diving into the sea on the ‘Ewa coast, all of them wearing garlands of bright yellow ‘ilima flowers, their lei dazzling against the crystal blue ocean. The hardy indigenous shrub is characterized by silvery heart-shaped leaves and shiny dime-sized blossoms. It belongs to the hibiscus family and grows wild in hot, dry environments. It was the flower of choice for leis by ali‘i, or Hawaiian Royalty, but these flower adornments took nearly 500-1000 flowers to complete a single lei strand. The five-petaled variety was said to be a favorite of Queen Emma and would often be seen to be the preferred flower of the Kamehameha butterfly. Other varieties of ‘ilima were used as a source of medicine by ‘ōiwi to cure general debility, womb disorders, and asthma.


The mo‘olelo of the intertwinement of two lovers, Pōhuehue and Kauna‘oa, is one of faith. The two grew fond of each other and spent time together on the beach. In a huge argument, Pōhuehue fled by canoe and made his way to Lāna‘i. Despite being separated for several years, Kauna‘oa remained hopeful that her lover would return. After dreaming about her one night, Pōhuehue scattered the flowers of the hau tree into the ocean. The flowers made their way to Kahana Bay. Kauna‘oa called upon her ‘aumakua (family guardian) and followed the path of the flowers to Pōhuehue on the shores of Lāna‘i. The reuniting of the lovers is said to be why strands of kauna‘oa are often interlaced with the pōhuehue vines, both growing together on the beach and in lei-making.


Ho‘onui, the first of the three periods of the 30-day moon phase cycle. The first 10-day period was called ho‘onui as it means to “growing bigger” as this was the beginning on the first crescent moon that grows to the full moon. This period was known to early Hawaiians as the best time to plant. We perceive this as the basic concept of starting a new task the initial seed that gets planted and nurtured until fully developed. Hilo, Hoaka, Kukahi, Kūlua, Kūkolu, Kūpau, ‘Ole Kūkahi, ‘Ole Kūlua, ‘Ole Kūkolu, ‘Ole Kūpau are the 10-phases in the ho‘onui period.


Naupaka, born an ali‘i, was forbidden to marry anyone who was not of noble birth and was overwhelmingly saddened when she fell in love with a fisherman named Kaui. The lovers built a heiau to ask the gods for permission. No sign was given and their love was forbidden. As they parted ways forever and said their goodbyes, she took a white flower from her haku (head lei) and tore it, handing to him half. Naupaka returns to the mountains where she grew up and Kaui, the fisherman returns to the sea, becoming naupaka kuahiwi and naupaka kahakai.


The legend of Māui can be found widely across Polynesia. The story of Māui snaring the sun was told among Maori of New Zealand, natives of the Hervey, Society and Samoan Islands, and the ‘ōiwi of Hawai‘i. Māui’s mother, the goddess Hina, had trouble drying her famous kapa because of the short days and kānaka were not able to cultivate food. Determined to slow the sun, Māui heads to Haleakalā in search of his grandmother. It is here she teaches him to use the wiliwili tree and anchor the sun. After Māui hooks the sun, the sun agrees to slow his path if Māui set him free. They agreed for him to slow his path in the summer and may go quickly through winter. Thus, Hina was able to dry her kapa and kānaka was able to cook and prepare food during the day.


One day a young woman caught too much fish for her family to eat. She began to cry as she is saddened by the thought of taking more than she needed from the kai. Pele created a rainbow and told the young woman to follow it and it led her to the shore where she finds crystals. She rubs the fish with the crystals and it preserves the food for her ‘ohana to eat another day. This is said to be the first Hawaiian salt. It’s name pa‘akai means to hold fast to the ocean.


During the reign of Kiha, life in Waipi‘o Valley was miserable by the sounding of the Menehune and their pū, conch sell. Restless at night from the sounds of the pū, Kiha’s guards caught a villager’s dog, Puapualenalena stealing ‘awa from the chief’s patch. A job not fit for a large human, Kiha proposes for Puapua to steal the pū from the Menehune in return for sparing their lives. Puapua made his way up the cliff to where the Menehune lived and just before dawn grabbed the pū accidently chipping it on a rock and quickly made his way down to the village where he was praised. Named after the chief, Kihapu still has a chip missing in it as proof of this legendary story of Waipi‘o.


Around the 1920’s in Hawai‘i the blue and white checkered denim Palaka became the standard material of working shirts. The name Palaka is a transliteration into Hawaiian of the English word frock for the loose fitting shirt worn by British and American sailors to Hawai‘i. Soon Palaka came to mean the dark blue and white woven fabric the shirts were made of heavy cotton. Eventually these Palaka shirts and blue denim trousers called sailor-mokus became a traditional Hawaiian wear both on and off the plantations.


Ulana (weaving) was once such a highly developed skill that many of the pieces rendered by artistic Hawaiian women of old are considered works of art today. The ulana heritage links our ancestral Pacific islanders from traditional practices carried forward in modern Hawai‘i by a contemporary artists. Through the use of mediums like lau hala, ʻieʻie and makaloa, many modern Hawaiʻi weavers work to perpetuate this ancient art.