Niihau Shell Lei, a Little Bit of This and That




From the small little island of Niihau, 18 miles long and 3-6 miles wide, comes the small little shell, columbella varians sowerly, or more commonly known as the Niihau shell. How small you ask? Well in the above photo of a lei made from a variety of this shell you can count 7,000 of them!

And like the shell, Niihau is small but unique. Niihau was purchased in 1864 from King Kamehameha the IV for $10,000. Imagine owning your own little island at that price today. The Sinclair family bought it to start-up ranching. The native Hawaiians lived and worked there but no other people were allowed to visit or take up residence. It became known as the Forbidden Island. Through the years the island came into the hands of two brothers, the Robinson’s, who were descendents of the Sinclair’s.

The island being isolated for many years meant that the Hawaiian language and culture were in many ways preserved. The Hawaiians were employed by the Robinson’s and provided with places to live.

I had heard people say how there were no modern conveniences and that the only entertainment they had was a radio. I’m not sure how they lived as I never met anyone who had managed to get on to the island. Only friends or relatives of the residents there could visit. But in my research I was fascinated to find that their was a school for the kids that was supported totally with solar power that allowed the children to use computers. Now that seems modern to me.

Alas in 1999 the family had to shut down the ranching. That left residence with very little employment. Now there is said to be maybe 70 Hawaiians living there and during the summer when they go to visit relatives on nearby Kauai, there are as little as 30 left on the island.

The Niihau shell lei which can sell for more than $10,000 is considered now to be the prime source of earning an income on the island. Unfortunately with all of the people moving away there are very few left to collect these microscopic shells. This means that there are very few people who are carrying on the art of making the lei and there are few skilled artisans to make and pass on the craft.

Once a piece of art that you could buy for five dollars on the street may become a thing of the past. But for now the leis are still available and still quite popular. Here are some photos from the current exhibit at Bishop Museum. I’ve also included some sites where I have gotten some of my information from. You can check them out at the end of the photos.






Niihau shell drapes.  From the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. It would have been used to decorate a doorway or display over a mantle.











Art In Public Places The State Foundation of Culture and the Arts

While at Kapolei library I’m like a person with an addiction. With my empty bag for my books in hand, Nico and I entered with much anticipation. It’s a push me, pull me quandary when I’m there. At home books are piled on my night stand, dresser, and bookshelf in my 10 x 12 bedroom. They flow out into the living room shelves and a wicker chest in the family room.

So as I walk Nico into the library we are no longer two but four. There are always two little imps on either side of my shoulders fighting me to check out this book or that one while I try to reason with them. “No, I have to finish my books at home first.”

I needed to distract myself so I started to look at the pieces of art hanging and sitting in various places. It’s funny as many times as I go into the Kapolei Library, I never take the time to look at anything other than books.

On closer observation I noticed all kinds of art pieces besides the quilts that are always hanging. The work was on loan from the State Foundation of Culture and the arts. The project is called “Art in Public Places.”

In an effort to expose local artist to the public you can see all types of work in many institutions throughout the islands. So I thought I would share my distraction with you.

IMG_0245When the missionaries first came to the islands they showed the Hawaiian Women how to quilt. As is the way of the Hawaiians they took the basics and turned it into their own style.

IMG_0248Hawaiian women would get together and make their patterns from the different trees and flowers that grew on the islands and then make their quilts from those

IMG_0249I once read that the Hawaiian women would get together for several days, make themselves some strong drink from Ti plants and  appoint one person to do all the dishes. They would then start working on a quilt. All would help with the one quilt. The one who was appointed to do the dishes also helped. Having to do dishes softened the fingers making it hard to push the needle in and out to quilt. So you can see the importance of that dishwasher. Those Hawaiians. They thought of everything. What a party that must have been.

They also used their quilts to protest the fact that the Americans were making them take down their flag so the American flag could fly in its place. Protest Quilt


The three pieces above and below are by Wayne Miyata. It is called 3 Zen Monks

Speak No Evil

IMG_0254See No Evil

IMG_0255Hear No Evil

IMG_0256Victor Holmes’ Nani Umeke (Umeke is a bowl)

IMG_0258Sidney T.K. Yee’s Parallels (ceramic)

IMG_0261George Wright’s Pueo (Hawaii’s indigenous Owl)

English: Boerhavia sp. (seeds attached to head...

English: Boerhavia sp. (seeds attached to head of Pueo). Location: Maui, Kanaha Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted a photo here so you can see what the Hawaiian owl looks like. Isn’t he just exquisite. I love owls

IMG_0262Bird of Paradise. They are beautiful plants that I myself have growing in my yard. This painting had no signage so may you can double-click on it and see what that signature is.

IMG_0264This was just a poster up in the library showing all of the indigenous creatures of Hawaii. I bet the original is a beautiful piece of art though.

IMG_0263What can I say, I just loved this poster. Anyway looking at all this art worked. I went home with an empty bag full of books. (Nico’s that is)

Kukaniloko or Where’s the Aloha

Kukaniloko The Birthing Stones

The center of the island. Kukaniloko is a sacred area where it is said great chiefs are born. Mana, or power, energy, spiritual strength, emanates throughout the area.

Thousands of the commoners will be lined up in the distance waiting for the deep sound of the two pa’u drums to echo its announcement of a new chief”s birth.

Thirty six large stones placed in two rows, eighteen on the left and eighteen on the right, are flanked by thirty six chiefs  who are in line with them.

They are there to give testimony to the new alii‘s arrival in this very spot at the moment of birth. Having no written language these chiefs will be witness to the fact that the child is of royal birth and pledge their support.

The Birthing Stones

The alii’s wife is carried in on a fine woven mat by her retainers. She is brought to one of the birthing stones and placed above it. Her retainers will place their feet into the indention’s of the stone and the pregnant woman will sit on her retainers hips so as to not touch the ground.

A kahuna (Priest) will stand behind her and one will stand in front to catch the child as it is born. A piece of sharp bamboo is prepared to cut the umbilical cord from the mother.

Once the child’s cord is cut from her, the child is whisked away by forty eight chiefs who will perform the ceremony of cutting the naval cord from the child. Be it a male or female, both were recognized as chiefs divine and treated as such.

With such a history you would think that this area would be treated with the utmost respect and attention. But for many years it sat neglected because of problems with surrounding areas being used for growing crops for mainland landowners.

I remember visiting Kukaniloko many years ago for the first time and seeing weeds growing high and stones hidden between them. You could pretty much drive your car right over the area where once only alii could step foot on.

It was very sad to see and I couldn’t understand why it had been so neglected. Last month as I was reading a wonderful book called “Sites Of Oahu” by Sterling and Summers, I was once again introduced to the history of this area.

With a little background of what the area meant to the Hawaiian people and inspiration from the book I decided to go out their and check it out. To my surprise much had changed.

First of all the ability to drive right over the sacred ground was not there. Instead there was a very small area to park a couple of cars behind a chained off area. You now had to walk about a city block to get to it.

Stone formation at Kukaniloko

Stone formation at Kukaniloko

As I approached the site, off to my left was a man weed whacking the side of a small mound. I felt I was in luck as I still had some questions about the area and hoped maybe he could answer them.

He was a thin tanned  part Hawaiian who looked at me with half disdain as I started to talk. I had seen this look many times on Hawaiian people when approached on their turf because of people trying to crowd in on what was once their land.

Once we got into conversation though he softened up when he realized that I did have some idea of what I was talking about and I was respectful of the area I wanted information about.

As it turned out, his family (I’m thinking maybe it was more like his Ohana or extended family) was a part of Kukaniloko and had for years tried to bring it back to it’s original condition to give it the respect that it deserved. But the people who were working the land (and there is some argument that it does not belong to anyone but the Hawaiian people) refused to let them take care of it.

Now that the cane and pineapple are no longer grown and the land is up for sale (even though there is no proof that it belongs to those farmers) this group of Hawaiians have gotten together and have brought the area back to the manicured and beautiful condition that I saw that day.

The one complaint that the Hawaiian had as we talked was that no children were being brought out to be taught  how important and sacred this place was. I remarked with the developing of Hawaiian immersion programs maybe more children will be visiting and learning about it.

And just as we were finishing up our conversation a group of teens with a young woman leading them came up to the entrance where we stood and as they stood their she began to chant a Hawaiian greeting to the area before they entered.

The Hawaiian had a big smile on his face as he called out aloha to the woman and the kids. And of course I couldn’t have been more happy to see it happen myself.

Now, I have set out here the sacredness and importance of this area. I have also stated what has happened to it. A very important part of the Hawaiian Culture is once again being fought over because of the states refusal to recognize what was rightfully the Hawaiians.

Who, in the experience I’d just had deserved the Aloha? How would you react if you had been greeted as I was. Who should be offended?

Personally, I am thankful that I’ve been volunteering at Bishop Museum. It has forced me to do much research on the history of the Hawaiian people and I’ve become much more aware of who I am and who they are.

If I was not greeted with a big Aloha, I am not offended at all. There was much aloha there with the work that was being done on the area, the time that was put into bringing it back to it’s original condition and most of all making children aware of what their ancestors believed.

Here is a web site that has very interesting information on the process of the birth and information on the site of Kukaniloko. I was able to get more of a picture of the birth to use here in my post from it. Cultural Significance.

If you would like to read a great book on the sites of Oahu, once again here is the title of the one I used. “Sites of Oahu” by Sterling and Summers.

Christmas at the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki

December in Waikiki

The rain is shining  the leaves with small crystal drops. The temperiture is probably down in the low 60’s and I’m sitting in my yard with my sweat jacket and shorts on. Ka Mea is wrapped in a blanket and Max has his fur to keep him warm. After all he is a sheep dog and Quite comfortable in this cooler climate.

It was uncomfortably warm last week when I went to Waikiki to take these photos. More of a typical winter day. So I continue on with Christmas in Paradise and how some of the hotels put on their displays or lack there of.

The Moana Hotel

The Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian are really the only two hotels that have any beauty to them from the outside. They are the oldest hotels in Waikiki also and were built before the cement jungle set in.

This tree is in the main lobby right as you walk in. It did not seem to have a Hawaiian theme to it. I went in surch of more Holiday decorations but only found a Palm tree.

This was their Hawaiian theme. A palm tree Christmas tree.

As I searched around for more Christmas decorations this is what I saw. A closet where they hang the leis to greet the guest. Hopefully they are from the islands but most of the orchids now used in leis come from Thailand . ( The flowers are to expensive here. But somehow that just does not seem right to me. Plumeria leis which have a wonderful scent to them grow so easily here and really seem more Hawaiian would make a nice alternative and support the local growers. Why do they use orchids?

But then I guess orchids are synonymous with Hawaii too. But none of it is Hawaiian anyway. You might want to try a Maile lei or for your head put on a Haku. Now those are Hawaiian. Maile Lei or Haku Head Bands

And once again I find the obligatory Hawaiian real or fake artifacts on display in the Moana’s lobby. I tried to find the information on what they had here but I must have missed it. From appearances it looks like a gourd, an Umeke and a piece of Kapa. If you want to know all about these items you should try to take a trip to the Bishop Museum where they have many on display and tell you all about their uses and how they were made. An Umeke is a bowl that is made of wood and Kapa is the cloth that the Hawaiians made from the bark of trees. Gourds were more commonly used by the everyday Hawaiian for carrying things in or maybe for bowls for food or to eat out of. The umeke would more likely be used by the upper class or Alii.


If you are fortunate enough to be able to stay at the Moana this is a fine way to spend a winters day thinking about all your pals back home fighting the elements as you dream away in the 80 degree weather.

As we leave the Moana Hotel I head down Kalakaua Ave. This is the main drag in Waikiki and is more what Waikiki looks like. No ocean view, all the Palms and beaches have  been dug up to put in imported trees and brick sidewalks to try to fancy up the place and detract from all the cement buildings  that surround you. However their still is the nice weather.

My next post will be at the Princess Kaiulani where they put up a huge display of gingerbread. I think it is time I get back to posting about the museum. Very little Christmas there but lots of the real thing as far as Hawaii goes.