In ancient times the ipu or gourd was prevalent throughout the Hawaiian lifestyle, its usage as diverse as its genus, used as a storage receptacle, musical instrument or water container. Culturally and symbolically, the ipu says much about Hawai‘i and her people. The ipu has a turbulent life, at the mercy of forces it can’t control; too much sun, too little rain, insects, pestilence, or scavenging animals. The ipu that survived nature’s test is strong, useful, and proud. Hawaiians recognized this quality, this spirit, and respected the ipu for it; they asked the ipu wai or water gourd to hold precious life-giving water.
To begin, you must select your ipu – or does it actually select you? With such a selection comes a kuleana or responsibility to each other – ipu to human. It is here that the mālama or “care for” process begins. Then down to the kai – the ocean – we must go. The ipu – and you – go into the ocean to clean the ipu skin by scrubbing its surface with sand. After this cleansing, the interior is cleaned, and then kukui nut oil is rubbed on the ipu surface or skin. The transformation is remarkable – by both ipu and participant. The final task is to knot and tie cordage into an appropriate kōkō (carry net).