Hulu Aloha

By: Jayann Gabrio, Experience Design & Management

This year’s theme for the 2015 Aloha Festival is “Hulu Aloha, Beloved Feather Treasures.” Hawaiian hulu designs are pieces that were wearable works of art which distinguished the ruling class of the Hawaiian Kingdom. These beautiful pieces are often seen in the form of the kāhili – feather standard, ‘ahu‘ula – cloaks, mahiole – helmet, and lei hulu – feather lei.

This craft of hulu is elegant, regal, and also very difficult and time consuming. The craft begins with gathering the feathers which is a craft in itself. Once gathered, each feather is cut and trimmed for use, and then stitched multiple times – a process that could take decades depending on the size and feather type.

On the island of Kaua‘i, guests can experience a taste of the craft from start to finish.

We start our journey with a scenic drive out the West Side of Kaua‘i. Guests will drive up the slopes of Waimea Canyon State Park, back into the deep forests of Kōke‘e. Away from the hustle and bustle of the hotels, tourist shops, and restaurants, we close our eyes and listen to the soundscapes of Kaua‘i. The sounds of the endemic forest species, the real jewels of Kaua’i, softly whistle through the trees. A professional birding guide will assist guests with identifying the different species based on sight and sound. How many can you hear and see?

Traditionally, feathers for hulu craft were gathered from native Hawaiian birds in forests throughout the islands. Specialized bird catchers would survey the land for months, learning which trees the desired birds favored. The Hawaiians were extremely careful not to overharvest the birds, and in some cases birds were set free after feathers were taken. The rare ‘ō‘ō birds boasted bright yellow feathers in small quantities, and were always set free after a few feathers were plucked. The guide will share how sap from the breadfruit tree were applied to the limbs of the favored trees to catch the birds.

Guests can expect to see the native species of Kaua’i Amakihi, Anianiau, Apapane, I’iwi, and ‘Elepaio. If guests are very lucky, they’ll be treated to the songs of the endangered species: Akikiki, Akeke’e, and Puaiohi, which are rare and much more difficult to find.

After returning from the forests of Kōke‘e, guests will learn the ancient craft of lei hulu, feather lei design by a Hawaiian kumu. Although it takes a considerable amount of time to complete a lei hulu, guests will have a chance to learn about the different types of hulu design, watch a demonstration, experience the craft, and see different samples of feather design.

This year at the Aloha Festival, the Royal Court will be adorned with the Hawaiian feather hulu designs, perpetuating the magnificence of the craft. Be on the lookout for the varying designs which have taken countless hours to create!

Photo courtesy of Hawai’i Tourism Authority and Tor Johnson.