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KS cultural specialists Kumulāʻau Sing KSK’89 and Lāiana Kanoa-Wong present a special ʻawa bowl, Kaʻapupāoaamāuiakalana, to the late Sir Hector Busby – renowned Māori canoe-builder and master navigator.

Kūkahekahe: Carving a cultural connection

Jul. 20, 2021

  • Hoʻokahua Cultural Vibrancy Group

In this Kūkahekahe, Cultural Specialist Kumulāʻau Sing KSK’89 reflects on carving a special kānoa, ʻawa bowl, that was gifted to our Māori partners and extended family in 2015 at the start of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Watch and learn more about the carving process on our Kaʻiwakīloumoku website! As we gear up for the upcoming Moananuiākea Voyage for the Pacific, we will examine different ways we can prepare as a lāhui!

In some Hawaiian traditions, ʻawa was brought to Hawaiʻi by the demigod Māuiakalana. Māui brought ʻawa from the homeland of his two makuakāne hānai (adoptive fathers), Kāne and Kanaloa: they are often described in moʻolelo as cultivators, ʻawa drinkers, and water-finders who traveled throughout the Hawaiian islands after having migrated from Kahiki – Hawaiians’ ancestral home of archipelagos anchored by Tahiti.

In 2015, as part of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage of the Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia canoes, I carved a kānoa (ceremonial bowl to hold ʻawa) to honor esteemed Māori voyaging patriarch, Sir Heke-nuku-mai-ngā-iwi Busby. A master waka (canoe) builder with indelible contributions to Māori celestial navigation and wayfinding, Busby was fondly called Uncle Hek and is a kaumātua (elder) for our Hawaiian tribe Ngāti Ruawāhia.

Although he passed in 2019, Uncle Hek helped to cement a lasting relationship spanning 35 years between Hawaiʻi and Aotearoa and our voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa. The name of Uncle Hek’s kānoa is Ka-ʻapu-pāoa-a-Māuiakalana (the fragrant ʻawa cup of Maui, son of Kalana), honoring Māui’s connection to ʻawa as well as his place in moʻolelo in Hawaiʻi and Aotearoa.

Traditionally, Hawaiian woods selected to carve ʻawa bowls or kānoa were made from milo, kou and kamani. The kānoa that I carved for Uncle Hek came from a large piece of mango wood gifted from Zosimo Laʻakea Arista Jr. from his family's ʻāina in Kapahulu, Oʻahu. Although mango is not native, it is a highly desired wood to make papa kuʻi ʻai, poi boards, and bowls because it is a fruit tree and considered safe to use for food consumption.

I started this project by using a planer to shave down the mango slab then created a rough sketch of the kiʻi or image of the figure that would be physically embracing the ʻawa bowl. Using a modern steel koʻi (adze) I was able to hew out the bowl and use various-sized gouger chisels to carve the extremities of Māui’s figure. As the carving progressed, the kiʻi of Māui would become the base where the bowl would rest balanced upon his ʻelemu (buttocks) and a portion of the ʻumeke (bowl) itself.

As the work continued, the mango wood began to dry more quickly than desired and as a result, hairline cracks began to appear. I chose to use kauila wood provided to Kamehameha Schools by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to create six pewa (butterfly or fish-tail patches) to secure the cracks that were forming alongside the bowl. The six inserted patches were methodically used to represent the five traditional tribes of Te Tai Tokerau, and the newly declared sixth tribe, Ngāti Ruawāhia, an honorific designation given to Hawaiʻi by esteemed Maori elder Sir James Tau Henare to honor Hōkūleʻa’s first arrival into the bay of Waitangi, Aotearoa in 1985 during its Voyage of Rediscovery. The kauila patches helped to stabilize the cracks which can be expressed symbolically as the pathways our ancestors traveled throughout Polynesia.

The last part of the kānoa that I carved was Māui’s face. I saved his face for last so that I could create an image that would bring the entire carving and bowl together; it is also the hardest part to carve. I used mother of pearl shell to create his eyes. His pupils were inset using pegs made from uhiuhi wood. This kānoa was finished with oil stains using dark walnut and ebony to create an end result of beautiful contrasting colors. The use of an ebony color for the kiʻi form of Māuiakalana represents his genealogy from the time of pō (night) and to show the color “hiwa,” which is entirely black and traditionally reserved for sacred and ceremonial uses, as in the puaʻa hiwa (black pig), ʻawa hiwa (a variety of ʻawa).

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, to mark Hōkūleʻa’s inaugural sail beyond Polynesian waters,  Kaʻapupāoaamāuiakalana was presented to Uncle Hek to celebrate all of his accomplishments with wayfinding in Aotearoa, the creation of the double-hulled canoe Te Aurere, his knowledge as a Māori elder in cultural practice and protocols, and his pilina with Nainoa and his late father, former KS Trustee Myron Pinky Thompson –leaders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The presentation of this taonga (treasure) heralded Hōkūleʻa’s sail from Aotearoa to Australia and Bali, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa, and eventually around the world.

It was an honor to present Uncle Hek with his kānoa, and I was extremely happy whenever Māui was used for ʻawa during our visits to his home in Aurere as part of Ngāti Ruawāhia. It is my hope that this gift will continue to be a medium of fellowship that will bring Pacific and indigenous people together to commemorate Ngāti Ruawāhia, celebrate the opening of the Sir Hek Busby’s Kupe Waka Centre (currently under construction), and to honor the namesake of this kānoa, the famous wayfinder of Polynesia, the fisher of islands and Hawaiian gifter of ʻawa, Māuiakalana.

The process of carving Kaʻapupāoaamāuiakalana using modern chisels and koʻi (adze).

The six pewa inlaid in the kānoa representing the five tribes of Te Tai Tokerau, Aotearoa and Ngāti Ruawāhia, the sixth tribe.


Kaʻapupāoaamāuiakalana being used in 2015 at Aurere during an ʻawa ceremony.

malama honua, hoʻokahua, aotearoa, kūkahekahe, cultural conversations, maori, moananuiākea

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