Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Lau Hala weaving workshop with Paula Fuga

So it didn't get off to the start I'd hoped for, but somewhere around my road trip to Ithaca, my summer 2017 got back on track. The week before Labor Day and Labor Day weekend were especially rich - I had a wonderful trip to Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan for the wedding of a cousin once removed, that's where the lake I showed a couple of days ago in the "Not Brooklyn" post was, and then I came back to a reasonably quiet couple of days at work, with time for cheesemaking one night and a wonderful lau hala weaving workshop another night.

The weaving workshop was sponsored by Hālāwai. I am so glad to have gotten more involved with this excellent not-for-profit dedicated to sharing Hawaiian culture in NYC last year while helping out with welcoming the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa to NYC during her around-the-world Mālama Honua voyage. I'd known about them for years but only ever made it to a couple of the Hawai'i picnics before; now I'm much more in the loop about what's going on and I was delighted when this workshop popped up on my Facebook feed.

Our kumu (teacher) for the evening was Paula Fuga; she's a highly regarded musician and this was the 3rd of 3 events she was doing during this visit to NYC. The first was a concert, the second a songwriting/storytelling/ukulele workshop that I told some of my musically inclined friends about, because it sounded great. I couldn't attend either of those because they happened while I was at the wedding, but this one was the day after I got back, nice to have something to look forward to right after the family vacation!

It ended up being such a good evening, Paula is an excellent teacher and it was such a nice group that gathered to learn from her. Lau hala weaving is a hobby of Paula's and she thought it would be fun to teach this while she was here. She'd actually put together kits for us with the leaves all prepared for the weaving - she told us that she'd done this for all of the friends and family at her own wedding, too, and that the leaves we would be using were from the very same tree. That makes these so special!

This workshop was also special to me for a personal reason. This is actually the second time I've made a lau hala bracelet; the first time was at the Bishop Museum on O'ahu when I was back for my 30th 'Iolani class reunion. I never finished blogging about that trip, I made it through Day 4 (a two-post report because I had had too good a day to squeeze everything into one). In the second Day 4 post, I made a vague reference to September going like a runaway train "as usual, and then some", but added that I wasn't ready to talk about it and then went cheerfully off into that day's selection of fun in Hawai'i.

The "and then some" part was of course dealing with breast cancer. Once you've figured out you have that, boy do you get busy, so many things to do and all of them time sensitive. After that Day 4 report, the blogging petered off to a trickle up until after October as I scrambled to get through all of the medical appointments plus all of the work that I wanted to get done before I was out for three weeks (suggested recovery time for the type of mastectomy I had). Never circled back to share the rest of the trip after that, but my afternoon at the Bishop Museum was one of the things that I would've gotten to if everything hadn't gone so horribly awry with my health.

The bracelet making there was part of an exhibit they'd had about the importance of lau hala and weaving in Hawaiian life - so many things could be made from the tough yet flexible leaf (lau) of the pandanus tree (hala) (I didn't actually know the distinction until Paula started off her worksho by telling us a little about the materials we would be using - always interesting to learn something new like that).

sailing canoe with woven sail 

model wa'a kaulua (double-hulled canoe) with woven sails

The exhibit was over (the canoes above were part of the regular exhibits, I added them in here because thought they were a great example of the sheer working utility of Hawaiian weaving) and the gallery that had housed it was closed while it was being taken down, but museum staff member Moses Goods was still teaching visitors to weave a lau hala bracelet. 

I always enjoy making things with my hands, so I decided to participate. Moses started out by telling us about the Hawaiian understanding that when you create something, you should be mindful of your thoughts and feelings and surroundings, because those all become part of what you are making. 


So I ended up with this bracelet that when I look at it or wear it, I think of how happy I was to be there in da 'aina, in a place I'd loved when I was a kid and still do today, making something under the eye of someone so willing to share his skill and knowledge with visitors...but then there was also the sickness hidden away in me, even though I didn't know it yet. I found the lump shortly after I got back to NYC - still grateful I didn't find it before or during the trip, wouldn't have made any difference if I'd found it sooner except to fill an amazing visit to a place that will always feel like home with worry. The bracelet I made that day always reminds me of that whole intense shift from the beauty of the trip to the shock of finding the lump and then the intent march through diagnosis and on into treatment.

The one I made at Paula's workshop just seems to balance that. I've just passed the 2 year mark of discovery and diagnoses and of course that's marked with all of my doctors wanting to see how I'm doing - and the general consensus is that everything's good, I'm as healthy as a horse and likely to continue being that way for the foreseeable future. You're not considered to be entirely in the clear until 5 years later, but so far so good, definitely. And I sat there in the classroom in Manhattan, thinking how happy I was to be there in good health, with friends all around, weaving this second bracelet under Paula and Kapena's guidance. For a second when she was passing out the kits, I thought it was going to be the same bracelet - but it turned out to be somewhat similar as far as size and simplicity (both were attractive yet simple patterns, perfect for inexperienced weavers), but quite a different pattern. A complementary set, one for before and one for after, without anyone having planned it at all.

Very neat. I was so glad I was able to go. 

Here are some pictures from the workshop, you can see how much fun we had - click for a slideshow view - and then down at the end there's a link to a page about Paula that you might enjoy. 
And here's a link to Hawaiian footwear company OluKai's "Walk Story" (play on "talk story") featuring Paula - it's a nice little intro with a lovely song. They talk about her Motown influence - well, she was pretty excited about her Labor Day weekend plans - she was going to go hear Aretha Franklin sing! 


Haralee Sleepwear said...

I teared up with happiness for you Bonnie reading your post. What lovely bracelets and what special meaning for you. Here's to wishing you being able to make one every year you are cancer free!

bonnie said...

Thank you so much. Funny how such a simple thing could be so resonant. I started out planning another one of my typical "Look at this fun thing I did" posts but I started thinking about the workshop in Hawaii and the comparison to the workshop in Manhattan and it just all came out.

Alana said...

Beautiful. These remind me (a little) of the sweetgrass baskets and other woven arts created by the Gullah people of the South Carolina low country. I know very little about Hawai'i and have never been there (only one of four states I have not visited). I would love to, one day, but not as a traditional tourist.

bonnie said...

It's such a beautiful place. Definitely do some research if you ever go, it's worth getting away from the tour-bus circuit. For starters, just getting off of O'ahu is good; I never go to the outer islands because I grew up on O'ahu, so it's home and I love it and I always have this laundry list of things to do when I go there, but it's getting horrendously overbuilt (especially Honolulu, jeeze it's crazy) and the traffic is heinous. The North Shore is still good though, much less built up there. The outer islands are less like that, much quieter and more laid-back.