Monday, January 28, 2013

The "Weaving" Tree: Hala

Hala (Pandanus) is a tree found throughout Hawaii.  I've seen it used in landscaping at big hotels, private homes, and around parking lots. I think Costco may have a few hala trees along the perimeter of one of their lots. This particular tree is from the Hali'imaile Community Garden.

The hala leaves are carefully collected, cleaned, softened, de-thorned, and then stripped to be woven into lauhala mats, baskets, bracelets, bags, and many other useful and decorative items.  Lauhala is Hawaiian for "hala leaf."

I once took a lauhala weaving class in high school and experienced firsthand the effort of gathering and cleaning the lauhala, complete with sore fingers and scratched arms. 
It's a lot of work, made a mess of the bathtub, and that's even before the weaving starts! Not all hala leaves can be used either.  Leaves that are too old or too wet (mildewed) are no good for weaving. Good leaves are soaked, cleaned, stripped of thorns, and then carefully rolled into coils of yardage. One can sometimes find lauhala items and raw coils at the Maui Swap Meet. Another nice place to find beautifully made lauhala is at the Native Intelligence store in Wailuku. The leaves can also be stripped using a special adjustable metal stripper into slender long strips ranging from 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide. There is a guild of master lauhala weavers in Hawaii as well... and one master weaver told me her test of skill was to reproduce a complicated piece by sight. 

What's also interesting to me is that hala trees are not just found in Hawaii. An friend of mine visited Costa Rica and found the same hala trees there, and they are also used for weaving. Hala trees also have a very interesting pine cone shaped fruit, but I think this tree is too young to have any.  

Close up of Hala tree branches, full of curves and ridges. 

The aerial roots of the hala tree.
Hala is reputed to have aphorodisiac properties, with the pollen from the male flowers, but I don't know anyone who has ever used this!  I believe other parts of the tree are also medicinal, but would have to do more research to be sure. 

A close up of the ridged trunk. 

Note the spiny thorns on the long leaves. These have to be stripped off. 

More thorn action. 

The brown leaves in good condition are the ones
that are collected to be used in weaving.

Lauhala Christmas decorations at the Waldorf School Holiday Faire.

To see more items made of lauhala,
visit the post on the Hands on Maui Volunteer Fair
and scroll to the bottom.  

Here's another worthwhile post on lauhala by a Big Island resident. Another name for the hala tree is corkscrew pine, which I've never understood until reading that the "leaves are arranged in a corkscrew pattern along the branches." 
Read here about more history on the use of lauhala in Hawaiian culture


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