Rebuilding hale and Hawaiian culture

Workers lash purlin (horizontal timbers) to roof rafters.

Workers lash purlin (horizontal timbers) to roof rafters.

If you’re studying art, you need a studio. If it’s science, you need a lab. But to nurture a garden for kalo (taro) as well as new generations of Hawaiian Studies students, you need a hale — a thatched wooden structure symbolizing the strength of a whole culture.

That’s the 19-by-40-foot structure you see next to Hale A‘o near the campus entrance.

It will be part of the mahi‘ai kalo class (kalo cultivation) taught by assistant professor Liko Hoe.

Hoe explained that the hale will help regain that part of the culture. “Using our own resources is part of sustainability,” he said.

The hale itself will become a teaching tool for the māla (garden) of about two acres to open up behind the hale, according to assistant professor Kalawaia Moore. “The hale will be our home base for expanding the Hawaiian cultural garden out here,” he said.

However, the hale represents much more than just an outdoor classroom.

“It’s a great way to bring people together,” said Anastasia Chase, a Hawaiian Studies student assistant. “With laulima (people working together), it’s something to be proud of.” She said knowledge is power, use it wisely and share it with the next generation. She wants to learn to build hale and teach it to the keiki of the future.

Mario Cueva, also a Hawaiian Studies student assistant, said it’s a practice that has been revived. “It’s full of mana (divine power), full of history, and full of ingenuity.” He also said, “It’s a sense of community, camaraderie and aloha. It’s been a reminder that Hawaiian culture has foundation, a system and a structure like the hale that allows people to live in harmony.”

Tuti Sanborn, WCC Hawaiian Studies language kumu (teacher), said the hale is a given. She said she participates by cooking for the work crew. “It’s important to take care of the hale builders.”

Kumu Makanani Salā of Hawaiian Studies said the hale is very important. “It’s kind of a marriage of native Hawaiian knowledge, native Hawaiian ingenuity and Western academic knowledge.” She said teaching is in the Western construct, which is the university. With the hale, they have an outside classroom to teach the mahi‘ai kalo class, which is about the Hawaiian science of planting kalo.

Teaching about the water systems, ideas of sustainability and about the ahupua‘a (sections of land used to sustain) will be better served taught in the hale. Salā said that when she wants to go outside, she can use the hale to meet her students.

“You want to use what we have, to be sustainable. You don’t change the landscape to build; you build to fit the landscape. It’s a Hawaiian thing,” she added.

“Uncle Palani” teaches rock wall construction to workers

“Uncle Palani” teaches rock wall construction to workers.

For the past few months, a workforce of students and community volunteers, led by master hale builder Francis “Uncle Palani” Sinenci, has been erecting the sides and roof using various woods such as ‘ōhi‘a, kiawe, eucalyptus and mangrove.

Mortar is used inside the rock walls required by law for public safety. Nylon cordage is stronger and required for lashings, which is much cheaper than the traditional coconut cordage. Some coconut cordage is used for lashings to show students what it looked like in the old days.

If you look closely, there is another structure within the hale. This is the ergonomic scaffolding constructed to work comfortably on the roof. “If you don’t know how to build the scaffolding, you don’t know how to build the hale,” Sinenci said.

The sub-roof will be so tight, not even a chicken will be able to get through it. The scaffolding will be disassembled when the roof is thatched. “Everything here is cultural and engineering-wise, it is pono (correct),” said Sinenci.

He also said that by using nails and screws, you protrude into the material and weaken the connections, causing rust and erosion. “Binding is stronger,” Sinenci explained. “I was in the U.S. Air Force and I worked on airplanes. I understand stress, and I apply it to building the hale.”

The hale is on a slight slope so the upper rock wall is higher than the lower rock wall. The walls are terraced to allow for that. Three sides will be enclosed with an entrance on the end. The other end will be completely open for another larger entrance.

The garden’s name is Kamālaakahoe — an interesting story in itself. Hoe explained how the garden got its name. The name of the mountain that faces WCC is Keahiakahoe (the fire of Kahoe). As the story goes, a Hawaiian family moved from the Ford Island area to Kāne‘ohe. Kahoe, the eldest son was a farmer. Pahu, the youngest was a fisherman. The brothers would exchange kalo and fish.

One day, the sister, Lo‘e, visited her brother Kahoe and asked to eat. When Kahoe brought out food to eat, Lo‘e was shocked at how small the fish was that her brother gave to his older brother. She told Kahoe that Pahu caught bigger fish than that all the time. Pahu told his brother that he had bad catches.

Kahoe figured it out that his younger brother was stingy and was giving him the smaller fish for the same amount of kalo. Kahoe cut his brother off and stopped exchanging food.

Shortly after that, there was famine and a daytime imu (underground oven) was difficult to build because people would see the smoke from the imu and come and raid the food. They would have to cook at night to go undetected. Kahoe didn’t have that problem because he lived up in the mountain where the wind would push the smoke into the crevices of the valley and disappear without anyone noticing. He always had food so the name of the garden became Kamālaakahoe (garden of Kahoe).

Asked when he started building hale, Sinenci will tell you he started in the sixth grade when he was asked to do research on something Hawaiian. He found a picture of a post and rafter connection and was intrigued by it so he did his project on a Hawaiian thatched house.

After 30 years of serving in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, Sinenci returned to Hawai‘i to retire. Soon after he returned home, he was asked to build a hale. Uncle Rudy of Waimea sketched drawings of hale construction, and it was exactly like the drawings Sinenci sketched back in the sixth grade.

He knew he had found his calling. He went to the Big Island to study building hale and has built more than 160 hale in the past 20 years.

Stop by and feel free to check it out. See how your ancestors built hale. Feel the energy, feel the community spirit of working together. Experience a revival of a part of Hawaiian culture, one hale at a time.

by Wayne Ricks, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter