Exploring Traditional Hawaiian Crafts And Artifacts

Are you curious about the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii? In this article, you will embark on a journey to explore the captivating world of Traditional Hawaiian Crafts and Artifacts. From intricately woven baskets to beautifully carved wooden statues, you will discover the diverse range of craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations. Join us as we delve into the history, symbolism, and significance behind these treasured artifacts, immersing yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Hawaiian culture. Get ready to be captivated by the beauty and artistry that lies within the traditional crafts of Hawaii.

Traditional Hawaiian Crafts

In the beautiful islands of Hawaii, there is a rich tradition of creating stunning crafts and artifacts that reflect the unique culture and heritage of the Hawaiian people. From weaving to woodworking, bone and shell carving to featherwork, lei making to kapa making, these traditional crafts have been passed down through generations, preserving the history and artistry of the Hawaiian culture.


Weaving is one of the oldest crafts in Hawaii and holds a special place in the hearts of the Hawaiian people. It involves intertwining natural materials to create intricate designs and functional objects. The materials used in weaving vary depending on the type and purpose of the craft, but some common ones include lauhala, niho palaoa, olona fiber, and kakoi wood.

Materials Used

Lauhala is a versatile and widely used material in Hawaiian weaving. It comes from the leaves of the hala tree and is known for its strength and durability. The leaves are carefully prepared, dried, and then woven into mats, baskets, hats, and even fans.

Niho palaoa, also known as whale ivory, is another significant material used in weaving. Traditionally, it was crafted into intricate pendant necklaces and worn as a symbol of status and wealth. Today, it is highly treasured and meticulously carved by skilled artisans.

Olona fiber, made from the bark of the olona plant, is highly valued for its strength and flexibility. It is used to weave items such as nets, fishing lines, and cordage.

Kakoi wood is a hardwood commonly used in the construction of looms, tools, and other weaving accessories. Its durability and resistance to wear make it ideal for creating sturdy weaving equipment.


Hawaiian weaving encompasses a variety of techniques, each requiring skill and precision. Some of the notable weaving techniques include papale weaving, kapa weaving, and puniu drum making.

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Papale weaving refers to the art of creating traditional Hawaiian hats. The process involves carefully selecting and weaving lauhala fibers to form a protective and stylish headpiece. These hats, known as “papale,” come in various designs and are worn for both functional and ceremonial purposes.

Kapa weaving, on the other hand, is a technique that involves creating decorative and symbolic cloth from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. The bark is stripped, soaked, and then beaten until it softens. The resulting thin sheets are dyed, patterned, and assembled into clothing, blankets, and other textile-based crafts.

Puniu drum making is a traditional skill in which a small handheld drum is crafted entirely by hand. The drum is made from a hollowed-out coconut shell and a stretched animal skin membrane. Skilled artisans meticulously shape and decorate the drum, producing an instrument that carries the rhythms and beats of Hawaiian music.

Types of Weaving

The weaving tradition in Hawaii has given rise to a diverse range of crafts, each with its unique purpose and significance. Kahili, mats, baskets, hats, and fans are among the most prominent types of weaving found in Hawaiian craftsmanship.

Kahili are ornate feathered staffs used as important symbols of royalty and nobility in Hawaiian culture. They are meticulously crafted by attaching brightly colored feathers to long bamboo or wooden poles. Kahili are traditionally displayed during ceremonial events and held by members of the Hawaiian royal family.

Mats, known as “moena” in Hawaiian, are woven from lauhala or other natural fibers. They serve both practical and decorative purposes and can be used as floor coverings, sleeping mats, or wall hangings.

Baskets, or “pahu hula,” are woven containers traditionally made from lauhala. They are skillfully constructed using various weaving techniques and can be used for carrying and storing food, tools, or personal items.

Hats, or “lei hulu,” are another essential craft in Hawaiian weaving. They are made by weaving lauhala fibers into intricate patterns, resulting in a stylish and functional headpiece that provides protection from the sun’s rays.

Fans, or “peahi,” are woven from a variety of materials, including lauhala and niho palaoa. They are not only used for cooling purposes but also regarded as decorative and ceremonial objects. Fans are intricately woven with unique patterns that represent Hawaiian traditions and stories.


Woodworking is another traditional craft deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture. It involves shaping and crafting wood into functional objects and decorative art pieces. Koa wood, kou wood, mililani wood, and mamane wood are commonly used materials in Hawaiian woodworking.

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Materials Used

Koa wood is perhaps one of the most revered woods in Hawaii. Its rich reddish-brown color and distinctive grain make it highly sought after for its beauty and durability. Koa wood is used to create items such as furniture, musical instruments, and intricate carvings.

Kou wood, with its beautiful golden color and fine texture, is another important material in Hawaiian woodworking. It is often used to carve intricate designs and is highly valued for its decorative purposes.

Mililani wood, a fragrant and sturdy wood, is commonly used in the crafting of small to medium-sized items such as bowls, utensils, and decorative objects.

Mamane wood, on the other hand, is a hard wood that is often used to craft tools and weapons due to its strength and durability.


Woodworking in Hawaii utilizes a variety of tools to shape and carve wood with precision. Some examples include iwi hapapa (stone adzes), oo (digging stick), and koi (adz).

Iwi hapapa, or stone adzes, are used for shaping and smoothing wood. These ancient tools consist of a stone blade securely attached to a wooden handle. Skilled woodworkers carefully manipulate the adze to carve, shape, and decorate their creations.

Oo, the digging stick, is a versatile tool used for various woodworking tasks. It is particularly useful for digging, scraping, and smoothing the surface of wood.

Koi, or adz, is a cutting tool used for shaping and removing excess wood from larger projects. With its curved blade and wooden handle, it allows craftsmen to carve intricate details and intricate designs.

Products Made

Through the art of woodworking, Hawaiian craftsmen create a wide array of products that serve both practical and decorative purposes. Canoe paddles, calabashes, bowls, and weapons are just a few examples of the beautiful and functional items that come to life through their skilled craftsmanship.

Canoe paddles, traditionally made from koa wood, are crafted using both woodworking techniques and intricate carvings. These paddles are not only functional but also works of art, with each design serving as a unique representation of the Hawaiian culture and identity.

Calabashes, or “ipu,” are containers made from gourds or other natural materials, often beautifully decorated with wood carvings and other artistic embellishments. They are used for storing food, water, or other items and hold cultural significance in Hawaiian ceremonies and rituals.

Bowls, known as “umeke” in Hawaiian, are handcrafted wooden vessels used for serving food or storing precious items. They are meticulously shaped and polished to highlight the natural beauty of the wood and showcase the skill of the woodworker.

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Weapons, such as spears and clubs, were once essential tools for the warriors of Hawaii. These weapons were carefully crafted from strong and durable woods, making use of intricate designs and carvings to evoke power and intimidation.

Traditional Patterns and Designs

Traditional Hawaiian crafts are often adorned with patterns and designs that carry cultural and historical significance. These designs have been passed down through generations and continue to be incorporated into contemporary pieces.

Moo (Geometric Patterns)

Moo, or geometric patterns, are a common motif found in many traditional Hawaiian crafts. These patterns often depict intricate shapes, such as triangles, squares, and diamonds, which represent concepts like balance, harmony, and unity. The geometric designs are meticulously woven or carved into the crafts, adding a visual flair and cultural symbolism.

Ka Upiu (Stripes)

Ka upiu, or stripes, are another design element found in traditional Hawaiian crafts. These stripes can be seen in the weaving patterns of mats, baskets, and hats, as well as in the carving and decorative detailing of wooden artifacts. Ka upiu is believed to represent different elements of nature, such as water or land, and also symbolizes status and social standing.

Pukoho (Borders)

Pukoho, or borders, are decorative elements often found on woven crafts and woodwork. These border designs add a sense of completion and refinement to the overall piece. They can be simple or intricate, depending on the craftsman’s skill and artistic vision. The borders also serve as a way to frame and highlight the main design or pattern of the craft.

Kikiwi (Rough, Scaly Design)

Kikiwi, or rough, scaly design, is a unique pattern often seen in Hawaiian carving. It resembles the rough texture of a lizard’s skin and is achieved through careful chiseling and carving techniques. Kikiwi designs are commonly found on wooden bowls, utensils, and weapons, and serve as a tactile representation of the Hawaiian culture and connection to nature.

In conclusion, traditional Hawaiian crafts encompass a vast range of skills, materials, and designs that reflect the deep cultural roots and artistic heritage of the Hawaiian people. From the meticulous art of weaving to the precise craftsmanship of woodworking, these traditional crafts continue to be cherished and passed down through generations. The use of natural materials and the incorporation of meaningful patterns and designs create crafts and artifacts that not only serve practical purposes but also tell the stories and traditions of the Hawaiian culture. So, the next time you encounter a beautifully woven lei or a delicately carved wooden bowl, take a moment to appreciate the skill, history, and beauty behind these traditional Hawaiian crafts.