Bark Cloth Garments
Hawaiian clothing was called ‘A’AHU. Women wore skirts
of KAPA barkcloth called PA’U. Men wore waist and
loin cloths made of soft kapa called MALO. Incolder
weather a cape made of kapa cloth called KIHEI was
worn over the shoulders for warmth. People often went
barefoot but did sometimes wear sandals called KAMA’A
made of tough plant fiber.
most well known barkcloth was made by peeling, fermenting,
rinsing, and then pounding strips of bark from the
paper mulberry bush called WAUKE. The strips were
then laid flat, overlapped,
and pounded to a desired thickness. Heavier kapa was
stiffer, delicate kapa was so thin it looked like
fine, sheer, delicate lace. As the Hawaiian women
pounded the kapa, it softened and the fibers of the
different strips bonded into a large piece of fabric.
Their kapa beaters were often carved with unique patterns
that left a geometric impression on the cloth, a technique
practiced only in Hawaii out of all of Polynesian
barkcloth making. Held to the light, the thin, elegant
kapa cloth looks like the finest laces with the hardwood
beater’s carvings making a watermark all over the
fabric that created a tone-on-tone pattern unique
to each beater.
types of bark also used to make cloth were ‘ULU –
breadfruit shoots, MAMAKI, MA”AUEA, the outer skin
of the banana trunks, HAU, “AKAL, OLOA, and KOU.
Mulberry was the favorite; next favorite was mamaki.
were colored with
plant and mineral dyes. It is thought that the men
prepared the dyes to assist the women in coloring
the kapa cloth worn by men, women and children.
- Tumeric created a yellow dye
bark created a pink – red cloth and its root created
native raspberry fruit created pink dye
was a fern used to create red
had a berry that created a pale blue
leaves created a rare green
bark created red and its nut hush or root made black
created a blue-grey dye from burnt hili, sugarcane
or kukui nuts.
ocher and yellow ocher were ground in a stone mortar
with a stone pestle and, when mixed with kukui or
kamani oil, made a long lasting dye.
Coloring and Designs
unique pounded watermark designs in the kapa fiber
itself was often overlaid by other designs and colors.
Some times a cloth was immersed in a dye, but this
required a lot of very hard-to-make dye so often the
dye was lightly painted onto one side of the kapa.
a design was painted onto the kapa, but more common
was an overlay of other colored kapa beaten into the
main layer – red pieces beaten onto a white background
for example. This overlay technique now called felting
was unique to Hawaiian kapa.
unique to Hawaii and not practiced by other Polynesian
island barkcloth makers was the development of block
printing. The carved woodstamps were dipped into dye,
the excess shaken off, and then the block was pressed
onto the kapa. This was repeated to create a line
of continuous or evenly spaced overall printed design.
Bamboo was often used as an easily carved
and lightweight stamp that was easy to handle by the
printer. These were called ‘OHE (bamboo) KAPALA (to
lines were drawn upon the kapa surface using KAUILA
or bamboo liners. A liner would have a single point
to create one dyed line at a time. Or it could be
carved like a comb with 3-5 tines that allowed 3-5
lines to be drawn with a colored dye in one careful