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Contemporary Hawaii Woodworkers: the Wood, the Art, the Aloha

January 1, 2013 by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Contemporary Hawaii Woodworkers

“Koa is Hawai‘i. It provides that sense of place, that connection to the ‘āina (land) that is uniquely Hawai‘i. With a property known as chatoyancy (sha-toy-an-cee)—the ability to shimmer like a cat’s-eye gemstone—figured or curly koa wood is like no other. From deep, dark browns, to pale, golden blonds, koa produces a remarkable range of color. Its figure is just as impressive, from plain to fiddleback with every variation in between.

Although not classified as “rare” by scientists, koa naturally occurs only on the larger Hawaiian Islands and nowhere else on earth. It evolved here, in the middle of the Pacific, some 2,400 miles from the closest land mass. Koa is the largest and second most common native tree in Hawai‘i, though commercially viable koa forests occur only on the Big Island of Hawai‘i and Maui between 2,500 and 7,000 feet in elevation.

Currently, koa wood is predominately cut from dead, fallen, and dying trees on private land that is zoned for agricultural use. Koa sawyers today do both the salvage logging and milling operations, and a couple of their stories are shared in these pages. Much skill, equipment, and time are required to salvage what nature has left behind. Koa has strict protection—anyone who cuts a live tree on land zoned for conservation is subject to prosecution. Private landowners who grow koa and are zoned for agriculture can harvest their live trees. Several are working to do so in a sustainable way.

Koa has unique properties. It’s genetically predisposed to have curly or figured wood, yet the majority of the wood is plain grained. It is also very susceptible to injury by machinery and grazing animals and lacks the ability to “heal.” This makes more sense when you consider that this amazing tree originated in these islands before human contact. Without predatory animals, koa had no need for a natural defense mechanism.”

The collectors’ Edition of Contemporary Hawai‘i Woodworkers: the Wood, the Art, the Aloha is available. These special books were lovingly shipped to four locations on three islands to be autographed by 35 award-winning woodworkers and both authors. Each is numbered, has a gold seal, and comes complete with a slip case for $199. Purchase yours at Basically Books in Hilo, Cliff Johns Gallery in Holualoa, Dan DeLuz Woods in Mountain View, Dunn Gallery in Kapa‘au, Martin & MacArthur in Waikoloa, Wishard Gallery in Waimea, and

Photos by Doug Edens:

Warabi—Fiddlehead Ferns

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Warabi—Fiddlehead Ferns by Sonia R. Martinez

Whether you know them as warabi (Japanese), ho‘i‘o (Hawaiian) or ostrich fern (most of the mainland), the fiddlehead ferns are the young, edible, tightly coiled shoots of the fern that resemble the end of a violin or fiddle. The shoots remain coiled for about two-weeks before they unfurl into the delicate, lacy greenery we are all familiar with.

The species most commonly found in Hawai‘i is the Pteridium aquilinum, which grows in temperate and sub-tropical regions. It was introduced to the islands by Japanese immigrants who value it mainly for the young stems rather than the unfurled coils. Certain varieties of the plant contain the carcinogenic compound Ptaquiloside and need to be cooked thoroughly before eating.

Fiddlehead ferns are a very rich source of antioxidants Omega 3 and Omega 6, high in iron and fiber, and loaded with Vitamins A and C. They retain a deep green color even after cooking, and the taste is similar to a combination of asparagus, green beans, and young, tender okra.

In Hawai‘i warabi is available to us year-round. If you have never gone fern hunting, find a friend who can take you the first time. It seems that fiddlehead harvesting areas are closely guarded secrets along the lines of keeping a favorite fishing hole protected from “poachers.”

Look for smooth, shiny, dark green coils covered with light tan “fuzz” or as some people call it, “onion skin.” Snap the stem off with your hand at the place where it gives the least resistance and gather them in a basket, bucket, or open container. On a hot day any wild edible will begin to decompose rather quickly in a plastic bag. Choose small, firm, brightly colored ferns with no sign of softness or yellowing. If not planning on using right away, refrigerate, tightly wrapped in wet towels, for no more than two days. They should be washed and the ends trimmed before cooking by steaming, simmering, or sautéing.

Warabi and Shrimp Salad
This salad was originally brought by my friend Jessie Hillinger to one of our frequent potluck dinners at Kolekole Beach Park.

1 bundle fiddlehead ferns
1 medium Maui onion, chopped in large pieces
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound shrimp (cooked, shelled, deveined)

Warabi or fiddlehead fern stalks usually can be found at the markets in large bundles. After washing, snap the stalks at the breaking point and cut into one and a half inch pieces including the slightly unfurled frond tips. Boil in rapidly boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain and cool.

Assemble the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.

Dressing: (amounts to taste)
Aloha Shoyu (local brand soy sauce)
Honey (or sugar, if you prefer)
Chili pepper water**
Grated fresh ginger
Sesame oil

** Chili Pepper Water—Or as the locals call it, chili peppa wattah. Made with rice vinegar, Hawaiian sea salt, and tiny red hot Hawaiian chili peppers; some add a few crushed garlic cloves.

Warabi Cream Soup
4 cups fresh fiddleheads, washed and cleaned
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups milk, cream, or whipping cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Zest from one lemon, cut finely

Add the fiddleheads to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until they are almost tender, about 5 minutes. (Don’t be alarmed when you see your cooking water turning dark, with bits of frond in it. This is normal. In fact, if you strain the water, it may be added to other soups, supplying nutrients and good flavor. You may freeze it for later use.)

Drain and rinse with cold water. Chop coarsely and reserve.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally; add the fiddleheads and sauté a few more minutes. Add some of the chicken stock, stir, and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and cook until fiddleheads are thoroughly tender, about 5 minutes.

Use a blender or food processor to blend the fiddleheads with some of the stock until smooth (you might have to do this in batches). Pour it back into the saucepan, add the rest of the chicken stock and the milk or cream, reduce heat to medium. Be careful not to boil or the milk might curdle.

Once dished, garnish with the lemon zest and paprika.

Serves 4 to 6.

If you like a very creamy soup, add less stock and more cream, or if your taste leans more toward lighter soups, omit the milk or cream altogether.
I found I did not need to add salt, and used a bit of freshly ground pepper.

Contact writer Sonia R. Martinez:
Photos by Sonia R. Martinez

Under the Radar: Ben Kaili is His Own Man

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ben Kaili by Shirley Stoffer

He appears at most of the major Hawaiian music events on the island of Hawai‘i and neighboring islands, playing slack key guitar and singing in his sweet, nahenahe style. He shares traditional Hawaiian music at music festivals on the mainland and in the state of Hawai‘i, and plays at Hawaiian-style restaurants and other live-performance venues in California and Las Vegas. He’s played on two CDs that were nominated for Hawai‘i’s prestigious Nā Hōkū Hanohano award. All the top Hawaiian musicians seem to know him, do you?

Meet Ben Kaili, from Keaukaha in Hilo.

Ben is the oldest of three children. He was raised from birth by his grandparents on his mother’s side, Joseph and Hannah Kahe‘e. His father, Benjamin Kaili, was in the military on O‘ahu, where his siblings and mother lived. His grandparents did catering for events in Hilo. Ben says, “My grandparents knew everybody—from Auntie Dottie (Thompson), who co-founded the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, to the mayor and Governor Burns—because they catered their functions.”

He was exposed to fine Hawaiian music from an early age. “I met great entertainers like Melveen Leed, Aunty Genoa Keawe, Aunty Edith Kanaka‘ole, the Kalima ‘ohana and many more during those years.”

Ben started going to ‘ukulele classes at age six, and took uke lessons from Nicky Kauhi and schoolteacher Uncle Albert Nahāleā. Ben’s grandmother gave him his first guitar—a twelve-string.

When he was eight or nine, Ben began to teach himself to play slack key guitar. “At my grandparents’ caterings, they always had music,” he says. “I used to watch Uncle Fred Punahou and other local greats play, and I grasped a lot of knowledge from them. Then I would go home and try to get the tuning as close as possible to what they played. I would position my fingers and hands like I saw them do on stage. Then I would try playing. I would go to sleep, literally, with my guitar. My grandfather bought me a Sony tape recorder, and it would always be on ‘Record/Pause’ when I went to sleep. I would wake up in the early, early morning, hit the button, and play for a half hour or so, hit the button again and go back to sleep. I didn’t know what I was playing. I’d listen to what I played the next morning. I was working out songs by Gabby, Hui ‘Ohana, and Sunday Manoa.”

Ben says that he is the only guitarist he knows of who can keep his guitar in slack key tuning while accompanying a song in any key and playing complete chords (guitarists will understand what an accomplishment that is). Even though he plays ‘ukulele and bass too, slack key guitar is his main instrument.

Ben likes staying “under the radar” and being “his own man” without the restrictions imposed on musicians by huge event coordinators and record companies. “I like working with local musicians and studios,” he says. “I do a lot with the community here.”

He is the Hawaiian Festivals Coordinator for East Hawai‘i Cultural Center in Hilo, which produces the annual Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival held each July. The two-day festival features premiere Hawaiian musicians—some “legends,” and some up-and-coming. Some of the internationally known participants in the 23rd annual event in 2012 were Cyril Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi, Benny Chong, Sonny Lim, and Aunty Diana Aki. There is music, hula, food and culture at the event, all for a very modest entry fee. As of 2010, the festival began advertising in Japan, emphasizing it presents “authentic” Hawaiian music, versus the Japanese-style Hawaiian music that is often in heard in Japan. There were Japanese scheduled to come to the event from Sendai, Japan before the tsunami hit; of course, they had to cancel their trip. Happily, in 2012, a group of ‘ukulele players from Japan, along with their wahine hula dancers, were able to participate in the festival.

Dennis Taniguchi, executive director of the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center, created the very popular annual Japantown Nihonmachi Street Fair in San Francisco 40 years ago. He arranged for Ben to play at the Ho‘olaule‘a Stage at that festival in 2009 and it has become a regular gig on Benʻs calendar. “Japanese people love Hawaiian music so much,” he says. “They enjoy seeing ‘the real thing’!”

Uncle George Na‘ope, famous for co-founding the internationally-known Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, was a relative of Ben’s on the Kaili side of the family: he was Ben’s grandmother’s nephew. Hula holds a special place in Ben’s heart, too. He has been playing music for Kumu Meleana Manuel’s Ke ‘Olu Makani o Mauna Loa, a hālau based in Volcano, for about five years. Kumu Meleana was a student of Uncle George’s. Ben accompanied her hālau in the revived Merrie Monarch Keiki Hula Competition which was held again in Hilo this past October for the first time in ten years. He is looking forward to accompanying the hālau to the Nihonmachi Festival in San Francisco in 2013. He will also be playing with them at The George Na‘ope Keiki Hula Competition in Sacramento that is held each July as part of the Sacramento Aloha Festival. “It’s a great event,” he says.

Ben plays in the band, “Kanakapila,” with Victor Chock on ‘ukulele, JJ Ahuna on bass, and Dwight Tokumoto on steel guitar. They have been together since 2005, when Victor called them all to play with him at a baby lū‘au. The group’s Tuesday night jam sessions at Hilo Town Tavern have a large following of both locals and visitors.

“The band is well-known in Portland, Australia, London, and Canada, among other places,” Ben tells me, “because of the ‘snowbirds’ who return to Hilo every year. They come to see us at the tavern and pass the word along to their friends.”

Ben has recorded five albums: two with Kanakapila, two solo, and one slack key guitar album with bass player Eddie Atkins. He played on a Christmas music compilation “Slack Key Christmas” put out by Palm Records that was nominated for a Nā Hōkū in 2008. “Kaowahi,” the slack key album he released in 2009, was nominated for a Nā Hōkū Hanohano award that year. Ben’s slack key music is also heard in the background of the popular “Volcanoscapes” video, which features footage of erupting Kīlauea caldera.

2013 will be an especially exciting year for Ben. It begins with his first visit to Japan in March with the Ke ‘Olu Makani o Mauna Loa hālau. Later in the year, he will be releasing a new slack key guitar CD. “It will have a lot of originals on it that will be in the Hawaiian traditional style,” he says. He is recording it at Charles Brotman’s Lava Tracks Recording Studio. Charles, the well-known musician and producer of Grammy and Nā Hōkū Hanohano award-winning albums, is based in Waimea on Hawai‘i Island.

Ben and the band also appear annually in Hilo at the Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival and the KWXX Ho‘olaule‘a, the Hawaiian Slack key Guitar Festival at the Sheraton Kona, Kailua Kona’s Kupuna Hula Festival, Moku O Keawe Hula Festival at Waikoloa Beach Resort, and the Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila on O‘ahu. (Ben has a close relationship with Gabby’s son and slack key master, Cyril Pahinui, affectionately calling him “Uncle C.”) You will also see them backing up well-known local musicians like Darlene Ahuna and Aunty Diana Aki on Hawai‘i Island.

On the mainland, watch for Ben in California at the San Francisco Japantown Nihonmachi Festival, Bocci’s Cellar and Pono’s Hawaiian Grill in Santa Cruz, American Burger in Monterey, and Da Kine Cafe in Sunnyvale. You may even get a chance to catch him at the Pure Aloha Festival in Las Vegas.

Ben Kaili gets around! Now that you’ve been introduced, please say “Aloha!” when you see him. ❖

Contact Ben Kaili:,
Contact photographer Lance Miller:
Contact writer Shirley Stoffer: shirley AT konaweb DOT com

The Road Less Traveled—Destination: Diane Renchler’s Toulouce Gallery

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Diane Renchler by Jessica Kirkwood

When traveling up the Hamākuā coast I often I often turn makai (towards the ocean) off the main highway, just seven miles north of Hilo, in favor of the old Māmalahoa’s four-mile scenic route. Each time I venture down the cracked and winding road in anticipation of the lush, botanic canopies and collapsed Onomea Arch, I pass the same Buddhist Hongwanji and the same mountain-fed stream that flows below the same mossy wooden bridge. I glance to my left at the same patch of thick, tenacious bamboo, and then to my right at the same weathered, hill-top cemetery. Soon after, I pass the same antique art gallery with the same bright lavender lettering ‘Toulouce’ with the same orange and white calico cat painted on the side. Then I tell myself the same old thing, “You know, you really should check out that place some day.”

The gallery’s exterior is so vibrant, so full of charm and character, so perfectly out of place, and so hard to pass by unnoticed, and somehow I had always done just that—passed it by. So the last time I took the road less traveled, I pulled over, and stopped in to see what treasures and stories were held within the walls of this seemingly forgotten, if not colorful, gallery.

Upon entering, I was greeted by an elegantly attired woman with lively hazel eyes and wispy, grayish-blonde hair. Meet Diane Renchler—the owner of the Toulouce Gallery. She is graceful, sweet, and unbeknownst to me at the time, open and willing to unabashedly share herself with me.

She began by recounting one of her earliest memories—her four-year-old self sitting on the cool kitchen floor of a friend’s apartment while visiting her grandmother. “My friend’s mom put some newspapers down on the tiles and placed a set of water color paints in front of me. I remember thinking it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen,” she smiles, “And I still do.”

Growing up in Nevada, Diane received a Fine Arts Scholarship and eventually earned her Master’s Degree in Expressive Arts at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She dabbled in the mediums of acrylic, oil, printmaking, glass, and sculpture.

At twenty-one, Diane became a flight attendant, where she traveled to far-off destinations including Japan, South America, Israel, Europe, and Australia, and eventually bringing American troops into Vietnam during the war. The one grounding constant in her then moving life were her watercolor paints, “I carried my kit with me everywhere. They dried quickly and were so easy to travel with,” she says.

One particular flight touched down in Waikīkī, where she found solace from the gloomier and more lurid Vietnam conditions by painting the calming, tropical backdrops. Delving artistically, emotionally, and even physically into the soothing Pacific waters, she promised herself she would someday return.

Between that ‘someday’ and her current vocation and milieu, if you will, she has lived multiple lives. From owning a stained glass gallery in Aspen, Colorado where the hedonistic lifestyle of the 1970s eventually wore thin, to receiving life-threatening toxic poisoning from working with stained and leaded glass. At another daunting point along her path, her sole pleasure was found in painting the portraits of girls, both young and old, while living at a women’s shelter in the slums of Harlem, New York. Spiraling health problems ultimately caused her to take a step back, and then a big step within—a ‘bout of depression turned inner journey’ as she calls it.

“After a few really shaking experiences, even after going back to arts school, I realized that the knowledge of how to create my art was within me all along. I was looking outside myself for praise, recognition, and guidance from others, instead of looking within.”

The fear of failure had been guiding her aimlessly for so long that when she suddenly stopped long enough to reflect, she realized just how clear her own answers actually were. What it took was getting back to the basics: laying out some newspaper, opening a set of watercolor paints, and finding the courage to dive in and begin.

In 1995, Diane sold her house along with all of her belongings and hopped a flight across the Pacific with the destination Hawai‘i Island. Once on Hawaiian soil, she invested in an aquamarine Volkswagon van. “I knew that if I bought a plot of land I would dedicate myself to maintaining it instead of painting everything I had,” she says. That VW van, now indefinitely parked in her driveway, covered with moss and memories of a past life, became her home for her first four years on-island.

“Unemployed was sometimes a shaky place, yet it allowed me the time to travel the perimeter of the island countless times. I painted nearly every setting Hawai‘i Island has to offer,” she says. Once her van was full of paintings, she’d store them under friend’s houses across the island—with hopes of someday reclaiming them.

She eventually began selling her art at the Hilo and Pāhoa farmers’ markets, where she accumulated a small fan base. One day, a woman who, over time, had bought several of her paintings peered into Diane’s van and asked where she was living.

“I didn’t know what to say—I didn’t even know where I was going to park my van that night!” she laughs. The woman, inspired by the nomadic artist, offered a place in Onomea for Diane to more permanently set up camp. “I had driven my Volkswagon by this spot many times before. I think I even camped out here one night.”

That property is now Diane’s home, art gallery, and ever-maturing Eden of papaya, avocado, rolenia, coconut, banana, mango, pineapple, and taro patches, “This building was abandoned and run down, and the land was completely overgrown. It was awesomely scary at first. It took over a year of non-stop renovations,” she says, “But this was the exact space I had envisioned for myself.”

The Toulouce Gallery is named after her cat (and long-time VW companion). And her cat, well, he was named after the renowned French Impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

“It wasn’t until after I had finished painting the word ‘Toulouce’ on the outside of the gallery that I realized I had misspelled the artist’s name,” she laughs. Diane thought it cheeky and so she left it. The original blooper still stands today, merely adding to the gallery’s unique character.

The old, wooden plantation home is classy and cozy with an undeniably French feel. It features more than 20 local artists whose works include: painted gourds, clay sculptures, photography, jewelry, blown glass, essential oils, and vintage clothing.

Since those distant VW days, Diane is now an award-winning painter whose art has been shown at the Hilton Waikoloa Gallery, the Woodshop Gallery in Honomū, Waipio Valley Art works, Volcano Art Center, Dream’s of Paradise Gallery in Hilo, Trudy’s International Art in Kailua-Kona, and was recently featured as an artist at the Plein Air Paintures of Hawai‘i (PAPOH), a juried show in Kailua-Kona.

Playing with the element of water, above all, brings the most balance to her life, as she paints with it, and plays in it nearly every morning. “I think I’ve swam off nearly every coastline of this island. It’s probably the real reason I moved here. I used to swim in the 55-degree Boston Bay, so this is much nicer,” she laughs. “I think I’m addicted to water; it makes me high.”

Just as she’s about to close the gallery for the day, a couple visiting from Japan wander in. Their camera had run out of batteries just before snapping a shot of ‘Akaka Falls, “Do you have any pictures of waterfalls,” the woman asked, desperate for a specific memento of the island. “Yes, a few actually,” Diane says, flipping through a basket of matted prints, “Here you go. This is my favorite one of ‘Akaka. I set up my easel and painted it just a few years ago.” The woman smiles, she seems relieved.

My eyes wander around at the brightly colored pastel walls and focus on Diane’s many works, some of which include: “Old Onomea Road,” “Hapuna,” “Sunrise at Mauna Kea,” “Hāmākua Coastline,” “Opihikao,” “Pohoiki,” and “Wahine at Rainbow Falls.” I smile, knowing the paintings adorning the Toulouce Gallery walls quite literally tell the story of one woman’s audacity to take the plunge and trust in the pursuit of her childhood passion.

Contact artist Diane Renchler:, 808.936.0915
Contact writer Jessica Kirkwood: jkirkwood23 AT hotmail DOT com

Why Values? And Why “Manage with Aloha?”

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Why Values by Rosa Say

Be true to your values.” It’s advice you’re likely to hear several times in your lifetime, and read in countless books and articles. What does it mean?

Looking at it through the lens of ALOHA, it means, “Manifest your spirit completely: Be you.”

Still a big phrase though, isn’t it?

To “Be you” is to make several key choices, and then actively live your life by those highly visible choices:

  1.  You choose your values, knowing they will either help or hinder your behavior—hindering in a good way, curbing rash impulses, for by their inherent nature, values are good.
  2. You choose the company of others you keep close, knowing that they will either encourage you, or challenge you with the honesty of unconditional love. This includes family, kept close (or not, also a choice) for ‘OHANA is the “human circle of Aloha.”
  3. You choose the work you devote your efforts to, knowing that your work ethic will sustain you physically, intellectually, and emotionally. You HO‘OHANA (work with purposeful intention) as a person who does important work; work that matters.

Those are big choices, for they factor into our sense of well-being. Sometimes they’re clear, and we are tasked with keeping them clear, and directing them well. Sometimes they’re muddled and we need to sort through them; getting our clarity is Job One.

Whether clear or muddled, our choices will consistently affect those three decision areas of life’s prevailing focus: values, relationships, and intentional work. Thus, those are the foci at the epicenter of a Managing with Aloha practice: value alignment, healthy relationships, and intentional work.

We make a big deal about values most of all because values drive our relationships and our work as well. Our personal values are the critical ingredients of our beliefs and convictions, and they mix with our emotions, our intellect, and our spirit. We think of our values as immutable, and yet we’re impressionable, and they can be changed over time—by, and only by, our deliberate choice to do so.

Whether or not you’re aware of it, your values essentially do two things for you: they define your WHY (because they define what you believe in) and they give you a HOW-TO (because they define what you believe in).

Knowing this, we talk of how we Live with Aloha, and Work with Aloha, in order to self-manage with Aloha. Recognizing the drivers of our own behavior and taking responsibility for them is how we will ‘be true to our values.’ When you really think about it, the way you ‘walk the talk’ of your primary value drivers is a kind of signature that others identify with you. Taken altogether, your values are your personal brand. They define your reputation.

The reason to bother with all of this is clear. “All of this” equates to wonderful self discovery, tapping into our innate wisdom—our mana‘o. Discovering who you are meant to be in this lifetime, is discovering the relevant answer to nearly every other question you’ll wonder about, because you now know how you fit in, and how you’re part of the whole we call our humanity. You have your sense of belonging. You feel PONO, having a rightness with your world, and sense of balance within it.

As serious as this all sounds in its life-defining gravity, once you make those key choices, and commit to living your life by those choices willfully, they bring meaning, satisfaction, and true joy to your life. Your efforts become engaging, even playful. You become inspired (for now you are in-spirit) with your personal, relational, and professional value alignment fueling your best energies.

Imagine how much simpler navigating our increasingly-complex world would be if everyone was transparently true to their values. We could get on with our greater possibilities so much quicker than we now do. This is a great way to think about the servant leadership we know here in Hawai‘i as the value of HO‘OKIPA: we serve others best, by providing them with values and clarity when they deal with us: we’re honest and authentic. What they see, what they hear, what they feel radiating from us is truly what they get. It becomes clear to them how they fit in. too—and fit in with us.

We seek to be what ALOHA is all about. We’re true to our values.

These are the principles we’ll examine in issues to come as we explore the 19 Values of Managing with Aloha. The values of our Hawai‘i are timeless; they are wise, relevant and exceptionally useful to us, and I am very thankful to the ‘Ohana of Ke Ola, for allowing me to share them with you.

Until next time.
~ Rosa Say

Learn more about Rosa at

Discover more about the Managing with Aloha philosophy at

Every Store Has a Story: K. Takata Store in Hawi

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
K Takata Story by Hadley Catalano

Shiro Takata had no interest in working in his father’s grocery, K. Takata Store, during his childhood in North Kohala in the 1930s and 40s. He’d much rather play sports outside, and as the fourth son of Keizo and Hatsuko Takata, he didn’t have the same chores and obligations as his older brothers.

“I was the least dependable,” Takata joked about his work ethic at the time. “But after I graduated high school in 1948 my family wanted me, no other sibling, to work in the store. I was surprised.”

A labor of love, Shiro’s parents and older brothers were ready to pass the torch to the younger generation. The store, which today serves as an important narrative and testament to Kohala’s resilient history, had already been serving the community for 25 years.

The store’s history (which was compiled by Kim Takata and the North Kohala Cookbook Committee) dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, after John Hind engineered the construction of the Kohala ditch to feed his sugar canefields at Hawi Mill and Plantation in Ho‘ea. It was shortly after the community began to experience a vast modernization with improved roads, hydroelectric plants, and electricity that a young Japanese salesman settled in Kohala.

Keizo Takata, selling imported traditional kimono, went door to door at the camps offering his wares until he meet his future wife Hatsuko Fujimori, who was working as a server for the Hind family. The couple soon married in 1922 and Keizo, speaking little English, found his perfect match in his intelligent and hard-working wife. A year later the blossoming businessman opened a small shop, selling kimono in the town center of Hawi (where the Cherry Blossoms building stands today). Keeping up with the changing times, the couple soon adopted Western ways and supplied the developing community with more up-to-date styles and footwear, and began offering canned goods and small merchandise items.

Aware that the Bank of Hilo had recently foreclosed on the two-story Hamada Hotel down the street, Keizo seized the opportunity to purchase the broken down, collapsing building. And with the help of his wife, who translated and negotiated the sale, the pair settled and signed on the property while expecting their fourth child.

Wasting no time, the duo renovated the building and opened K. Takata Store, servicing the Kohala community in what is now the Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery in Hawi town.

“There were plenty of people and activity in Kohala at that time,” Shiro Takata recalled, noting that his parents raised their seven children in the store, living in the old hotel. “Nobody traveled so we did the majority of our business at the plantations. We would drive to camps in our old Ford truck, take orders, and make deliveries.”

Originally the store was designed for counter service, customers would enter and order items displayed on shelves. Over the years the Takatas, taking note from growing businesses in Hilo, adapted to a self service shop, selling strictly groceries.

While the store was running at full speed, Pearl Harbor had a devastating impact on the family. Keizo, being Issei, not an American national, was forced into a Japanese internment camp on the mainland. The eldest son was drafted into the war, leaving Hatsuko and the six remaining children to run the store and manage on their own.

“In an attempt to make more money, my mother began making kimono again for the new service men, as a designer gift for them to take home to their girlfriends and wives,” Takata said. “When my father returned he wasn’t the same, he has lost his drive and ambition and my mother became the new ‘boss’.”

So upon Shiro’s graduation and his parent’s call to duty in the family business, he picked up the slack, taking over for his elder brothers who were burnt out on the business.

“I thought to myself, if I’m going to be stuck here, I might as well make the most of it and do the best I can,” as he explained how he adopted the motto, ‘Everyone should leave the building smiling.’

Armed with a new objective, it took Shiro only a few years to meet Clara Ogi, the owner of Pualani, a beauty shop a few storefronts down, who would make his life and business even more successful.

In the mid-1940s Clara, not yet 20, with the help of her brother’s money from the family’s coffee farm in Holualoa, bought a closed beauty shop in Hawi and soon transformed it into a gainful commercial operation.

The couple wed in 1955 and continued to work at their respective jobs, while living in the Takata store building. Two years later their first son Rayton was born, followed by Jerry in 1959. During this time it became increasingly difficult to conduct business in Kohala due to the closure of Māhukona port (items were now trucked from Hilo). Keizo and Hatsuko were ready to retire to O‘ahu and kept insisting that Shiro buy the business. It was Clara who took her earnings from Pualani Beauty Shop and invested in Takata Store.

“She made the business possible, she was my biggest supporter,” Shiro said of his wife, who helped the store thrive with her friendly demeanor, community investment, and love of the family business.

“My mother was the backbone of this store,” Jerry, who is now the store manager and purchasing agent explained of his mother who won the 2011 Citizen of the Year award from the North Kohala Merchants Association. “My father did the business end, however this store was my mother’s life. She worked here everyday and had to retire last year due to her health, or she would have kept on working.”

When Jerry and his brother returned from college on the mainland, Shiro explained that they followed a similar path to his own, taking up a later interest in the store and observing the day-to-day activities of the business, an interest that made their father happy.

The business grew and developed and in 1992 the Takata family relocated the store to a family property a short distance from their current location, up Akoni Pule Highway. The new building brought with it a fresh face to the grocery store, ample parking, a wider range of products, and a larger volume of merchandise for the isolated neighborhoods of Kohala.

“We were very excited about the change, never could have imagined it. We wanted to be the best convenience store we could be,” Shiro said. “People here are so appreciative of the business, this is the joy of serving this community.”

Takatas have been acting as any good business in a small town would, supporting the youth of Kohala, providing donations, and offering a Banzai Card to support community projects. The small mom and pop shop has clearly expanded, now offering locally grown produce, a variety of stock according to customer demands, and employs 20 people, including the next Takata generation, Rayton’s son Jake.

“There is a lot of hard work that goes into this store,” Jerry explained. “Like the past in Kohala we never know what the future will bring. We have loyal employees and customers and we are proud to be able to serve Kohala as a community store.”

To contact the K. Takata Store: 808.889.5261

Contact writer Hadley Catalano: hadleycatalano AT gmail DOT com

A Journey Through Light and Stone: The Art and Architecture of John Wallis

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
John Wallis by John J. Boyle

A Place to Breathe in the Light
The art of creating a space for a place to live suggests an attention to placement, form, and strength of materials. In designing for Hawai‘i, engineering and traditional construction meet a sculptor’s eye and soft, human skin.

Traditional Polynesian Hawaiians built high-walled woven shelters on carefully fitted stone foundations. On the floors, woven lauhala mats were piled up for comfort on the warm stones. The windowless, hive-like shelters were cooler in the midday heat. These sleeping spaces had a high ceiling of braided fronds. The moisture that collected on the leaf roof acted like a swamp cooler as the air passed through it. A small entryway was just large enough to crawl through. They moved seasonally and the fronds were easily replaced. This kind of partially-outdoor living changed with increasing contact with world cultures that brought mosquitos, vermin, disease, and a rectitude that rejected their organically breathing hut structures.

John Wallis, an architect for more than fifty years, sees to how we live in houses and why. His forms embody a practicality which some call Sacred Geometry, Sustainable Design, or Feng Shui. Yet for John, his design choices are a matter of distinct practical efficacy.

In his solutions for building in Hawai‘i he uses locally produced concrete and sustainably harvested woods. He comes up with site-specific solutions for living with the land as opposed to on it, and caring for—rather than exploiting—the ‘āina. In this, he is very much of his time and of this place.

For John, Feng Shui is a wisdom that has to do with the nature of the building and sacred geometry has to do with the structure. Both express practical and aesthetic choices, which can include pathos, spirituality, and healing energies. Intuitively, rather than formally trained and experienced, John may not be able to define his work in terms of fractals or a golden ratio, but he may comment that, “it works.” One may explain the beauty of an enclosed setting as defined by a Chinese elemental system, or perhaps it just makes sense.  Although John’s work may seem new, it is merely a return to practical efficient design.

Having designed and built in climates with four, two, and seemingly one season, he is well informed. His travel, patience, and curiosity prepared him for building in Hawai‘i. On a small avocado orchard 270 feet above sea level in North Kohala he has built his own home where he lets in light, cohabiting with the land. He named his home Nalukea, the Hawaiian word for ‘white wave’, after an image of pāhoehoe lava that gleamed in circular, silver waves.

Rare the Few Who Land Here
For those who have the resources and good fortune to build their own home where they want to, the art of architecture exists.

Out of this practice innovation and excellence speak of all time. In most cases, the way it is done goes unquestioned—houses are built and homeowners become homemakers by what they bring into it. Building codes are in place to protect an owner and builder from foreseen errors. At other times, codes and regulations challenge creativity. In John Wallis’ architecture innovation combines with nuance, inviting the natural beauty indoors. His tropical gardens are only a breath away, thinly distanced by glass and screens.

The ability to sense a form in a place before it exists demands attention to the lay of the land and the coursing of weather. Hawai‘i’s climate may appear to be benign, or even static in its consistently comfortable temperature range. One is more inclined to be outdoors with the elements in such a temperate clime. John’s designs reflect traditional and state of the art stone work of Greek, Caribbean, Mexican, and Southeast Asian styles, in effect, holistic sensibilities. Hawai‘i’s temperate position in the unobstructed ocean is at the same latitude as other more humid continental communities. It is fair to model after such places, yet there is a need to note our distinctions. Hawai‘i is different because the trade winds cool and aerate each of our 11 out of 13 distinct micro climates. Thus his screens and walls are carefully placed.

Salt, seeds, and pollen make good with our trade winds. In turn, on up the food chain, from hundreds of molds and microbes to the ants, spiders, lizards, and rodents, each subsequent ground feeder is the food of another. It is the work of informed design to attend this fact of nature.

On John’s home an external traffic lane of a concrete apron walkway embraces the house, next to that is a skirt of thin gravel. The poured concrete slab on which the walls stand is thicker and deeper then ordinary floors or footers. This slightly thicker concrete acts as a thermal battery storing the day’s ambient heat and warmly radiates into the evening balancing day and night temperature changes. This warm concrete barrier moat also dissuades molds and offers few cool corners for insects. Understandably, what works for human comfort suits many other life forms and so his conscious design manages pests without toxic poisons.

Out of the Box
A world accustomed to boxes has created a product line of materials and codes as well as a business of selling and manufacturing parts. John has, in a sense, outgrown the exclusive use for rectangular building. Upon buying his land in 1999, John lived in a tent and began his stewardship while he honed in on where and how his house needed to be set. He began drawing and sketching before he landed on his design.

The journey from pencil to shovel was as rife with glorious incidents as it was with impediments and challenges. From the pitch of the roof to the placement of openings, his house was designed to meet and embrace the subtle seasonal weathers. His house is a one-story, many-leveled, open-floor design that makes for ease of stride.

Twenty-seven poured concrete cylinders are set at angles to support the leaf-shaped umbrella roof.

The interior spaces are defined by glass or screens and shade cloth is used to create 20-foot tall walls. The high, enclosed spaces are set into the roll of a hillside. Not one of the six glass openings vies as the front door, nor does it seem to matter, as they all serve equally as access-ways.

“It is like a tree, with no facade front or back, per se.”

The Concept
“It is mostly in the concept, the details are to refine. If you have a really strong concept, the details are there to support it.”

A concept can be a style of indoor versus outdoor living, or to integrate the natural with the manmade. Or it could be building out of one’s immediate environment and a detail could be which materials and why.

“How do you belong or respond?” he asks. “What are the joys and the pleasures of the relationships to the natural and man made? I really like the way they work together.”

Another concept is the budget. How much per square foot as opposed to an unlimited budget?

“There is nothing to refine without a concept. It could consist of using red, yellow, white, and copper alongside natural woods. A limited palate can give a dynamic impression.”

“A building needs a sense of center. Where are people going to end up when they enter? What is the next order of events? What is the journey?”

The unifying quality of the design for his home is derived from sections of cylinders and angles. Even the hinges on the doors are little cylinders. Like leaves in the orchard, the circular and angular forms relate to each other. A simple round catchment for his orchard reflects the summer moon and casts light upon contiguous spaces.

On a more practical level, John’s structures consider North Kohala winds. One of the ways the building breathes is through the air space or cracks around an opening or a door, they are not sealed and yet are thin enough to deflect the zigzagging earthbound mosquitos and flies. In some other similar mosquito climates, homes are built high off of the ground, above the bug zone. Mosquitos tend to swarm around slippers and shoes because they sense human essences, so shoes are kept a short walk away from the door. By reducing access and providing sunlight, other life forms are disinvited into a home’s comfort. John has created ventilated cabinets with drawers that breathe. This is done by using galvanized half inch wire grid bottoms. This shelving is too precarious for cockroaches and manages to keep the neighborhood insects apart from household activity.

The library’s wall of books is set to meet the winter’s sunlight against an eastern thermal wall, defending against moist tropical air and darkness which tends to mold paper.

Efficiently, one dimmable 200-watt light fixture in the center of his round living room illuminates each of the exterior accesses.

Bird Cloud, The Delight of Beauty
In Annie Proulx’s nonfiction book about building her home Bird Cloud, she writes: “The Agustan architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio is regarded today more as a figurehead father of architecture than someone whose views on houses belong in the pages of Dwell or Wallpaper, but there is something terribly obvious about his three general precepts in De Architectura that have held true over two thousand years: that an architect-designed building must have integrity of structure, a responsibility to function, and the added delight of beauty. Included in these precepts might be enhanced landscaping, and, as we discover today, in the first years of the third millennium, the necessity of making energy-efficient, water thrifty houses overrides everything else. Buildings must operate within stricter “green” bounds.”

John Wallis’s concrete construction is sustainable, cost efficient, and environmentally sensible as our wood stock diminishes into the past. His simple design obviates the expense of drywall, trim, caulking, and paints. By estimates of square footage under the roof, his costs are half of that of a more traditional construction.

The Journey
Walking the land is the beginning of what John calls the journey of collaboration. He says, “If I fail in a building, I fail to keep that journey going.”

On another of his building sites in the Kohala Mountains, John explains a work in progress, “See how it is triangulated among these lava-slump-angled hills. These angles are also the earth’s angles. That’s where the house gets its geometry, from the slump in the lava.” In another use of the word, John describes how triangulation in construction makes a building stronger and there is less construction waste and less stiffening energy to build a typical rectangular unstable form. It is more efficient and aesthetic as it allows for a larger range of organic shapes.

The Hawaiians with their A-frames were working with a similar understanding.

As we walk on the land he says, “Working while the sun provides the necessary light is a very green and natural act.”

“As an arch builder, through these amazing years, I have been part of the process that has enabled an Arabian horse ranching couple to have their poetry; a Hollywood Director ‘a triple Wow’; a UCLA Professor, his ‘Greek house with a Blue Roof’; and today a client sits in his ‘Bird of Prey,’ settling down upon the western slopes of the Kohala Mountains. All of these are site-specific, live-in-sculptures, as unlike another as they honor our sentient human condition with an unrelenting objective that differentiates and allows each owner’s personal expression formed in stone, space, and light.”

A Memoir of Place Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx, 2011, p121.
Creating Sacred Space With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston, 1997.

Contact John Willis: 808.889.5790
Contact writer John J. Boyle: jjjboyle2112 AT gmail DOT com

A Brief History of: Whales in Hawaii

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
A brief history of whales by Peter T Young

The koholā (humpback whale) was well known to the early Hawaiians. In the Kumulipo chant—the Hawaiian chant of creation—the Second Era speaks of the birth of the whale: “Hanau ka palaoa noho I kai”—born is the whale living in the ocean.

The presence of the koholā in Hawaiian waters is evidenced in Hawai‘i’s oral and written history through petroglyphs, legends, legendary place names, and artifacts.

Kapoukahi, a powerful kahuna from Kaua‘i, prophesized that war would end if Kamehameha I constructed a heiau dedicated to the war god Ku at Pu‘ukoholā.
In 1791, Keoua, Kamehameha’s cousin, was slain at Pu‘ukoholā, an event that according to prophesy, led to the conquest and consolidation of the islands under the rule of Kamehameha I.

Whaling in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. At that time, whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.

Rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area. The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands.

Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands.

Whalers’ aversion to the traditional Hawaiian diet of fish and poi spurred new trends in farming and ranching. The sailors wanted fresh vegetables and the native Hawaiians turned the temperate uplands into vast truck farms. There was a demand for fresh fruit, cattle, white potatoes, and sugar. Hawaiians began growing a wider variety of crops to supply the ships.

In Hawai‘i, several hundred whaling ships might call in season, each with 20 to 30 men aboard and each desiring to resupply with enough food for another tour “on Japan,” “on the Northwest,” or into the Arctic.

The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. For Hawaiian ports, the whaling fleet was the crux of the economy. More than 100 ships stopped in Hawaiian ports in 1824.

The effect on Hawai‘i’s economy, particularly in areas in reach of Honolulu, Lāhainā, and Hilo, the main whaling ports, was dramatic and of considerable importance in the islands’ history.

Over the next two decades, the Pacific whaling fleet nearly quadrupled in size, and in the record year of 1846, 736 whaling ships arrived in Hawai‘i. Then, whaling came swiftly to an end.

In 1859, an oil well was discovered and developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania; within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses—spelling the end of the whaling industry.

Humpback Whales in the Hawaiian Islands

The warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands are breeding, calving and nursing areas for humpback whales and is one of the world’s most important habitats for them.

At the start of the 20th century, the global population of humpbacks was depleted by the commercial whaling industry.

In 1973, the United States government made it illegal to hunt, harm, or disturb humpback whales. When the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, the humpback whale was listed as endangered and remains so to this day. Protection of this important ecological habitat was necessary for the long-term recovery of the North Pacific humpback whale population.

In 1992, Congress enacted the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, recognizing the important role that the Hawaiian Islands play in the preservation and long-term vitality of the endangered humpback whale.

The Sanctuary is jointly managed in an equal partnership in the oversight of sanctuary operations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Hawai‘i. They determined that co-managing a sanctuary would provide additional beneficial resources and expertise to enhance the protection of humpback whales and their habitat.The cooperative agreement was signed in 1998.

The sanctuary conducts and supports humpback whale research to increase scientific knowledge about the North Pacific humpback whale population and its habitat.

Research efforts include photo identification, population, birth and mortality rates, and whale behavior. Like our fingerprints, whale flukes (tail fins) are unique with distinctive patches and markings for each whale. Researchers use the irregularities and differences of a whale’s fluke to distinguish between individual whales.

Along the coastlines of the Hawaiian Islands, the whales cause pause as travelers stop to watch their antics in the ocean.

Connect with Peter:

Storytelling Quilts: From the Wisdom and Wit of Rozemaryn Van Der Horst

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Rozemaryn Van Der Horst by Karen Valentine

A storytelling quilt crafted by kupuna Rozemaryn Van der Horst is more than a beautiful rendering of fabrics, hand embroidery, colors, patterns and shapes that tell a story, it is a glimpse into the brilliant mind and sometimes irreverent sense of humor possessed by this individualistic artist. In fact, if she were standing next to you as you view one of her quilts on display in an exhibit—maybe in Hawai‘i, in the Netherlands, or in Rome—you’d delight in hearing the real story of how the quilt came to be.

As an octogenarian, her memory of dates and chronology isn’t always right on the tip of her tongue, and it’s not important anyway. The tapestry of her unusual life is laid out in a panorama that needs no timeline. Each episode is colorful, intricate and unique, just like the squares in one of her quilts, which are never actually square—nor is she!

South Kona resident Rozemaryn, who was born and raised in the Netherlands (she won’t say exactly when; it was prior to World War II), counts among her former teachers and friends such well-known names as her kumu hula, Uncle George Na‘ope; the famous Dutch artist, M.C. Escher; Hawaiian language and cultural teacher, A‘ala Akana; and dear friends on Pitcairn Island, the descendents of Fletcher Christian of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. As well as being an accomplished painter, illustrator, and fabric artist, she is one of the founders of the Aloha Quilters of Kona, a member of Mensa, a pilot who flew a plane before she learned to drive, a hula dancer, world traveler, ‘ukulele player (amateur), home brewer, and the former manager of a local coffee farm, Loke Kai Farms, for 20 years. And, she can communicate in Morse Code.

After the war, she moved to the U.S. and worked for her father’s U.S. company, the Van Der Horst Corporation, which provided electroplating services for aviation. That’s when he sent her to Spartan College of Aeronautics so she could fly the company plane from coast to coast. She met and married Johan Thingbo, in Norway, in January of 1958.

Though she has no formal training in art, “I was always drawing and painting, since the time I was little,” says Rozemaryn. After becoming a newlywed and moving to Santa Rosa, California, she turned her talent to the pragmatic purpose of furnishing a home, and made her first quilt.

“My first quilt, see, it has blocks,” she points to the bottom half of the quilt. “That’s dull!”

The top half, however, is not. The torsos of two figures arise from the blocks. The woman is holding a rose between them. She was modeled after a picture in Playboy Magazine, says Rozemaryn. Her pink polyester skin has padding inside to form her figure. The man’s skin is brown, primarily because Rozemaryn ran out of pink. “But, oh, did it cause a stir,” says the artist. “I hung it in a local quilt exhibit, and the newspaper told everyone, ‘Come and see the interracial quilt!’”

The Hawaiian volcano goddess of fire and the Mauna Kea goddess of snow—Pele and Poli‘ahu—competed with each other in legend. In this quilt made of silk, undulating waves of black and white symbolize the battle of the goddesses and overlay the two dynamic figures, which are portrayed as hula dancers. The border has illustrations of traditional hula steps. This quilt sold for $10,000, she says.

Rozemaryn performed in the hālau of the late, renowned kumu hula, Uncle George Na‘ope, for eight years, during which time he took the troupe to Reno and Alaska to dance. “He was very strict,” she says. “I can tell, watching other dancers, whether they learned from him.”

Her hula training remains with her, as just recently she stood up to perform at the request of two friends in a restaurant. “A couple of ladies, my friends, were playing ‘ukulele in the coffee shop. They saw me come in and called out to me to dance ‘Little Grass Shack’ with them.”

“This was entered in a big quilt exhibit in Houston. Sometimes I create fabric pieces you can lift up and look underneath,” she said. “The shell placed just below the waist of the merman is loose. I watched several people in the exhibit walk up to it and look around before lifting it up. Underneath it I had embroidered the words ‘Disappointed?’” she chuckles.

The quilt she made for an astronomy exhibit at Keck Observatory headquarters on the theme of a black hole, has an irreverent, stuck-out tongue underneath a flap. “I didn’t really want to make ‘celestial’ quilts,” she exclaims. “I asked an astronomer at one of their monthly lectures, ‘Do you know what’s inside?’ He looked and was very insulted.”

The famed Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher is described by Wikipedia as being “known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. These feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.” Rozemaryn happened to attend a well-known school in Baarn, Netherlands, where Escher also lived at the time. During breaks from school, she says, “I met Escher, and he and the French teacher (also an artist) gave me drawing lessons while we walked in the Baarn forest. They would draw with a stick in the sand to show me how to draw perspective, etc. I was just a little girl in pigtails. I was fascinated and I had followed them and it amused him,” she says.

In 1998, she was invited to enter a quilt in an exhibit by the Escher Foundation in Rotterdam. Designs were to be inspired by the work of Escher, with repetitive patterns and tessellations—flat, symmetrical patterns of shapes, which can be optical illusions.

Rozemaryn’s quilt is entitled, “How Does a Cow Catch a Hare?” When she was a child, she says, her mother told her a tale based on a common Dutch phrase that is said when you don’t know how to do something. She said you can do anything when you do it in the right way. “How does a cow catch a hare? It hides behind a cabbage and makes cabbage noises,” she relates. Finding it a real challenge to represent Escher’s art, she was reminded of this saying, and when she saw cows laying down along Napo‘opo‘o Road, she decided to use them as her theme. As viewed from different angles, the quilt has shapes that resemble cows and hares.

On the backs of her quilts, she often stitches a related story or drawing. This one has a cow hiding behind a cabbage, looking at a hare and singing a French song about the hare running a zigzag path.

A U.S. Coast Guard veterans group, Friends of the Coast Guard, commissioned this quilt for its 200th anniversary. Rozemaryn consulted with Coast Guard officials here in Hawai‘i who helped her with the details. The border has various insignia and the interior portrays the first Coast Guard ship, the first lighthouse, a modern helicopter and sea rescue. After traveling around the U.S., the quilt is now hung in the Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut. The Meadowlands Race Track also commissioned a commemorative quilt, after they saw the Coast Guard quilt.

With rows of hand stitching, in the style of a traditional Hawaiian quilt, the Breadfruit Tree Quilt is also an Advent calendar used to count the days leading up to Christmas, with flaps to be opened every day during Advent. Under each is a beautifully detailed Hawaiian image, from ancient times to modern era. Just above the second branch from the bottom on the right is a gold-leafed marijuana leaf.

“It was in 1991, and I was laying out a few leaves on my kitchen table, preparing to paint them, while talking with a friend on the phone,” Rozemaryn said. “Well, a storm blew up and lightning struck nearby, knocking out the phone. My friend thought I had had a heart attack and called the police to check on me. There was a knock on my door. With the leaves still spread out on the table, I looked out and saw who it was, and I almost did have a heart attack! I walked out to show them I was OK. Whew!” she laughs.

Pitcairn Island Connections
“My father went to sea when he was 15,” Rozemaryn says. She was always fascinated by the story of the HMS Bounty and its fate after mutineers took over from Captain William Bligh in 1789. They settled on Pitcairn Island, near Tahiti, and their descendents still inhabit the island.

“When I was little he used to tell me stories about his seafaring days, and included his visit to Pitcairn. There was a lady in Sausalito, California, who organized trips on sailboats all over the world in the 1980s. I heard that she intended to have a trip to Pitcairn from Tahiti, and I went and stayed on Pitcairn for several weeks. My hosts were Irma and Ben Christian. Later Ben and Irma came to Hawai‘i and stayed with me. The cookbook was my idea because I thought it would give them a chance to sell something to visiting tourists from cruise ships, besides the lauhala things she made.” Irma Christian is a commercial radio operator on the island. At the time, the ham radio was the only means of communication with the outside world. Because she also knew Morse Code, Rozemaryn developed a radio correspondence with Irma.

In 1986, they published the Pitcairn Island Cookbook, written by Irma Christian and illustrated by Rozemaryn, who transcribed all of the text in her own handwriting, which is also reproduced on the pages of the book. It is a fascinating combination of Pitcairn Island history, local agriculture, preparation methods and recipes used by the islanders. The cookbook cover is illustrated with a stunning batik made by Rozemaryn with a breadfruit motif and hand-dyed with dyes made from local plants. The breadfruit is meaningful to Pitcairn Island, as it was the reason for the voyage of the Bounty and Bligh’s mission to take breadfruit back with him.

The cookbook is available on the website,, and also on the website of Irma Christian and her son Dennis:

Another ambitious project was a special, commemorative quilt.

“When Pitcairn Island approached their 200th anniversary of Fletcher Christian landing there, they asked me on the ham radio for [a quilting] idea in which the children could participate. I suggested a group quilt based on the drawings of the children. I think there were 14 in the school at the time. I received drawings and asked women from the fiber hui to select a drawing and pick some fabric. We did not copy the drawings but interpreted them. The quilt took one year to make. Five Pitcairn women participated and the others were from Hawai‘i. I put it together. The quilt traveled a lot: to Kentucky, Vermont, Switzerland, the Isle of Man, California, Texas, and Australia.”

Rozemaryn had also learned that the island needed a satellite dish and was inspired to help them, especially because it was the means for the children to get their school lessons. So the quilt was sold in a raffle and won by a man in England. It made enough to buy the satellite dish, and the winner chose to donate the quilt back to Pitcairn Island, where it hangs in a museum today.

Rozemaryn Ven Der Horst is quite good at organizing quilting projects. In recent years, she also organized the quilt contest for the annual Kona Coffee Festival. Today she remains active, with weekly outings to lunch at the Hawai‘i Community College Culinary School, playing ‘ukulele with a Saturday bluegrass kanikapila group, coffee with the local Mensa club and visiting with friends.

There are yet more stories and more one-of-a-kind quilts from this lively, one-of-a-kind artist at

Contact writer Karen Valentine: karenvalentine808 AT gmail DOT com

Waiho‘olu‘u: The Ancient Practice of Natural Dye Making with the Kukui Tree

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Kukui Dye by Renee Robinson

In Hawai‘i the kukui tree, distinctive in its pale green, silvery foliage, is a symbol of enlightenment, protection, and peace. Kukui (also known as candlenut) was a canoe plant. Its seeds were brought to Hawai‘i by the first Polynesian voyagers.

In old Hawai‘i, kukui nut lei were worn by the Ali‘i (royalty) to honor the life-giving force of Lono and to show their social status. For them it was like wearing a lei of light providing hope, healing, and protection.

Kukui was believed to be a physical manifestation of Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture and fertility. Lono appeared when abundance was ready to be harvested.

All parts of the plant were used by the early Hawaiians, and many of these traditional uses are still practiced today. The light colored wood of kukui trees was often used for canoes and fishing floats. It’s been said the fishermen would chew the nuts and spit them on the water to break the surface tension and remove reflections, giving them greater underwater visibility.

Historically, the oily nuts were burned and used like candles for indoor and outdoor lighting. The nuts were strung four or five on a stiff palm leaf mid-rib. The oil in them burned slowly and brightly providing an excellent portable light source.

The Kukui Dye Workshop
We gathered at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Gardens in Captain Cook to learn from Bernice Akamine, a Hawaiian cultural arts practitioner from O‘ahu. Throughout the day she taught us the cultural uses of the kukui tree and how to make waiho‘olu‘u (color, dye, coloring liquid). Of course, this being a hands-on workshop, we first needed to gather the materials to work with.

Plastic bags in hand, we collected kukui nuts: green ones off the tree, nuts on the ground with the dark—and sometimes yucky—outer rind, nuts, and nuts without the rind. Some people had bulging bags in a few minutes, others went to kukui trees further away. Not wanting to go back empty-handed, I used a stick to dig nuts out of the impacted dirt where the maintenance vehicles drive.

Back at the workshop tables, we sorted our gatherings: green nuts in one pan, plain nuts in another, and the dark ones in several pans.

Then we began to prepare the dye-making ingredients.

The green rinds were cut in half to free the nut. I helped separate the dark, decaying rinds from the nuts. A messy job, yet so worth it in the end. Any parchment was recycled.

Once separated, the rinds were rinsed several times, then put into two large kettles on the stove with an equal part of water to make the dye. Ours cooked for about an hour, more time would make a darker dye.

While a group of us sorted and cleaned the nuts with rinds, others used hammers or lava stones to crack the nuts and separate the meat from the hard shell. The shells were used as mulch underneath the trees. The actual nut meat went into a big foil-lined stainless steel pan. When a hammer was available, I cracked my first nut—oh my, what a stench! Apparently it had been sitting in the driveway too long and was rotten. Later Bernice said we could have used the oil from those ‘rotten’ nuts to help start the fire of the fresh nuts. Who knew? Lesson learned—everything is usable.

While I finished cracking my kukui nuts, part of the group were peeling kukui roots and exposing a beautiful red color. They scraped the peeled root with the edge of a knife and ended up with piles of red shavings. These were combined in a pot, water was added, and onto the stove it went. The longer it cooks, the deeper color the dye will have.

Ideally you’d let the cracked nuts dry for a day or two before burning them to extract the oil. Because the nuts were fresh we used a blow torch. This is where my ‘rotten’ nut oil would have helped. Once the nuts were lit, a foodservice deck pan with a smooth inside was placed over the burning nuts for about an hour. The soot collected on the inside of the pan is used to make an ink that can be used on kapa and also for body tattoos.

While the nuts were cooking, some of us peeled logs from a downed kukui tree. It was BEAUTIFUL! I wanted to take my peeled log home and use it as a piece of art. Instead, I was a good student and scraped off the red color, then added the shavings to the pot of red dye. Several attendees took the scraped logs home to use for firewood.

Near the end of the class, we dropped pieces of white cotton fabric in the pans of strained dye. Normally these would sit for a couple of hours or overnight to fully absorb the color. However, it was enough for us to see the rich dark brown, the beautiful red, and the greenish beige colors which came from our day’s work.

More Dyeing Tips
When you dye a project (fabric, ipu, kapa, paper), remember to make all the dye that you will need at one time, as many variables affect the color from batch to batch.

If you gather the red from a live kukui tree, PLEASE take the following precautions: First, only take what you need. Make strips going lengthwise on a branch. Never peel all the way around a branch or it will die. Gently scrape the color, leaving the inner bark so the tree can heal. Gather from multiple trees instead of just one. Clean and sanitize your knife blade an alcohol or disinfectant wipe between trees.

Older bark has a deeper color than new bark. If you gather the bark in the rainy season the color will be lighter, the dry season yields a darker color.

Other Uses for a Kukui Tree

  • The oil is known for its healing properties and is an important ingredient today in many creams and massage oils.
  • Sometimes called the varnish tree, kukui nut oil is used to varnish and preserve wood as well as to waterproof fishing nets, tapa cloth, and paper.
  • The red dye is used to make fishnets less visible to fish.
  • The sap from the leaves will help with gum infections.
  • The sticky tree sap is used as a healing covering for wounds, mosquito bites, shingles, chickenpox, or as an adhesive gum.
  • The juicy sap that fills up the depression left when the stem is pulled off the green fruit is used to treat thrush/white tongue. This sap is also a healing application for chapped lips, cold sores, and mild sunburn.
  • If you’re constipated, drink a glass of water with grated green kukui nut added.
  • Need to boost your immune system? Eat some of the flowers.
  • The leaves and the lightly fragrant white flowers are often used in lei, as are the inch-round nuts or seeds.

The delicate flowers of the kukui tree played a role in the ancient healing practices by helping to clear the centers of the body from which a person can collect energy (chakras).

The kukui nut is not considered ideal for regular consumption. Uncooked it is quite toxic to the body. The cooked nuts are eaten in small portions, typically as a topping on other foods. Too much can cause an intestinal cleansing with a purging effect.

‘Inamona is a tasty condiment used in Hawaiian cooking made from roasted kukui nuts and Hawaiian sea salt. A serving of ‘inamona and poi was considered a full, nutritional meal. Chili peppers and seaweed can be added for more flavor.

My biggest takeaway was participating in the ‘talk story’ learning process while working with my hands. Everyone contributed as they were able—sharing in the work, and sharing in the results. What a blessed way to live. And it’s fun to recognize the green, silver leaves as I drive around Hawai‘i Island.

Kukui trees grow quickly with male and female blossoms on the same plant. Its stately size, rounded, spreading crown, seasonal inflorescence and silvery-lobed leaves add a unique beauty to any property. Adding to the appeal of growing kukui trees is the ease of maintaining them. Though they prefer a steady supply of water, they can tolerate lengthy dry periods. They have few pests and need only light pruning when young to ensure a desired canopy shape.

Is it time to plant a kukui tree on your property? They are available at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden as well as several local nurseries.

Contact Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden: 808.323.3318,
Contact Bernice Akamine:
Contact writer Renée Robinson: editor AT keolamagazine DOT com

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