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Letters From Steve Dec 2015

By: Steve Frailey Thursday December 10, 2015 comments Tags: polynesians

The Art and History Behind our Lauhala Gift Bags


You may have noticed that this month’s coupon from Hawaiian Organic Noni gets you a free lauhala bag and a red bow when you buy one of our Holiday Special Lotion 2-Packs. You can choose any two 8 oz lotions, and we’ll include one of these attractive gift bags for free!

But we’ve gotten a lot of questions: What is Lauhala? Why is it culturally significant? Why do we include it in our holiday special?

What is Lauhala?

Lauhala is a Hawaiian word, coming from the root word lau, which means “leaf” and hala, the word for a common plant in Hawaii, also known as Hawaiian Screwpine or Pandanus tectorius.

Hala has long leaves that can be woven into fabric, which can then be put to a wide variety of uses. The art of weaving hala leaves is common across many Pacific cultures, including in Hawaii. Lauhala refers to the art of weaving hala leaves.

Hala trees

History of Lauhala

Lauhala may have been brought to Hawaii as a canoe plant, which you can learn more about here. Ancient Polynesian explorers brought many of the most important plants they needed for survival with them in their canoes, in the form of seeds or seedlings.

Or, as legend would have it, hala trees may spread across the islands when the volcano goddess Pele ripped the tree apart in punishment for snagging her canoe when she first landed on the island of Hawaii.

However the hala tree got its start on Hawaii, it’s been a vital part of Hawaiian culture for thousands of years.

Hala Trees

Hala would have been considered a very important plant, as it was used for such a wide variety of things, including lauhala weaving. In addition, hala trunks were used for building, and the flowers were used to make special ceremonial leis.

The Ancient Art of Lauhala

The art of lauhala was once a highly prized and developed skill, and weavers were traditionally very well off and praised for their skill. Indeed, most families had many weavers, who turned the plentiful leaves of the hala trees into mats, baskets, clothing, fans and hats.

The art was passed down over generations, with children learning from a variety of teachers who would teach unique styles and techniques. Each weaver’s unique style would be a blend of everyone who taught him or her.

Impact of Western Trade

Unfortunately, the increase in trade with the West caused a decline in the 19th century. Lauhala is still practiced today largely because of the plantation industry. Artisans created hats (still one of the most common applications of lauhala) and baskets to harvest and carry coffee beans. Many artisans survived by trading their lauhala products directly for food.

Lauhala Today

Today, lauhala survives largely due to the tourist industry. Whereas lauhala was used in ancient times to make canoe sails, wall thatch, and mats, it is now most often used to make purses, placemats, and yes, gift baskets. As in ancient times, it’s also commonly used to make garments, especially hats.

Along with leis and grass skirts, lauhala products are seen as one of the iconic souvenirs of Hawaii.

A Legacy In Danger

However, today as few as 10% of Hawaiian families may be keeping up the tradition. Even the children of lauhala teachers, who are weaving well into their seventies, eighties, and nineties, aren’t taking the time to learn the art form. Some styles and patterns are in danger of being forgotten to time.

Part of the reason we include these gift baskets in our holiday offer is to remind you of this very important aspect of Polynesian culture.

We hope you and your loved ones enjoy them!

Steve Frailey

About the Author: Steve Frailey

My wife and I (Steve Frailey) moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1982 from our organic farm in California. There were no roads, electricity, water or buildings but lots of Noni trees (Morinda Citrifolia) in our valley. We also developed a deep relationship with Noni that was growing all through our valley.  Today we run our Hawaiian Organic Noni farm, and share the gift of health with people throughout the world.