Fishnet from Hau Fiber
We went to Waipa' Poi pounding today (though scraping and grinding is a more accurate description). Every Thursday at Waipa' they do this gathering, and people come from all over. It’s the only cultural center like this on the island, and it’s at the foot of Bill and Tanya’s driveway. They have a library of cultural books, offices, native plant garden and nursery, a farmers market on Tuesdays, and they are restoring the whole upper valley, an ahapua’a to native. And I was encouraged to bring cedar bark and do some weaving with them, and maybe work with some of the fibers here. I became interested in hau fiber, it seemed to be an ancient fiber source but not much used today. Today I got to make a start of a net bag from the bark of the hau tree, along with some Hawaiians who were very interested in watching it unfold.
Hau is a yellow flowered hibiscus tree that grows rampantly here. It can be incredibly invasive in wetland valleys as we saw at a neighbor’s property. It also drops its yellow flowers to the ground where they land upright and turn different shades of oranges and reds, very lovely.
The bark can be pulled in strips from the tree and, as ‘uncle Sam’ told us today, can also be used to pull trucks out of the ditch, instead of calling a tow truck like people do today. Another person told me of islanders pulling strip off, and fashioning it into a figure-8 strap to climb coconut trees. In other words it is incredibly strong fiber. When the bark is removed from a 3” diameter trunk and soaked for a few days to ‘ret’ (or rot) it can be separated into very fine, almost plasticy textured layers which can be spun into cordage.
On Thursdays a man we think is called Charlie comes and works on nylon fiber nets which he sells to fisherman who commission nets from him. He’s a Portuguese man married to a Hawaiian woman. He makes the throw nets which are funnel shaped and thrown out along the shoreline and pulled back in. I could see his technique is similar to what I’ve done for dipnets so I thought that would be good project, making a hau fiber net sample.
Last week I started thigh spinning some fine twine to use and people were interested, so I made more during the week. ‘Charlie’ let me borrow a smaller net needle he had and I used my finger as a gauge (a spacer used to keep the net loops the same size). He makes his net needles from bamboo, I’d like to try that, very lightweight and strong. His gauge is just linoleum but it could be anything hard and flat (I prefer wood or bone).
So I made a little net sample from hau fiber, which I am turning into a net bag. ‘Charlie’ was clearly not interested in showing me how to do it as I struggled with the starting though he didn’t mind me looking at his as a model. Another elder was there who makes nets, and all he said as I worked on my start was that starting nets is the hardest part. He didn’t seem interested in showing me how either. But I surprised them by pulling it off. That drew in a few more people, and I got pretty far along on a little net which I decided to make into a net bag. Uncle Sam came over and was very supportive of what we were doing, and he told us many stories as we worked. He had a saying about keeping busy with your hands while sitting around, something like ‘lazy work’.
So it was another good day in paradise. We also got to talk to a ‘lau hala’ basket weaver about harvesting hala leaves for baskets, and ways to prepare them. She wants to make a ‘lau hala’ hat in the northwest coast style, which she saw at an airport, and liked in the one I brought, and may come over to work with us on that. It’s fun to share knowledge about fibers and techniques, and our deeper connections with the plants and culture while doing this work. It’s a bond we can all share.