Dalani Tanahy and Grandkid BaileyArtist Statement:  Dalani Tanahy, Kapa Practitioner

February 12, 2011


When I started doing kapa, it was almost a natural transition, just into a new medium, because I already had an affinity for detailed slow work.  It’s interesting when you discover that you’ve been training yourself all along for something you would end up devoting your life to.

Dalani Tanahy is a native of San Diego California with maternal roots from Waikapu, Maui and is a direct descendant of Edward Bailey and Emily Kane of Wailuku.  Growing up, she spent enough summers in La`ie with her grandparents, Emily and Arthur Enos, that she knew she would return to the ‘homeland’ one day.

                Artistry and teaching seem to run in the family and although Dalani was never formally trained in either, she is adept at both, and in kapa making, has found the perfect marriage of art and education that she truly enjoys doing and sharing.  Making her first i`e kuku and hohoa beaters over fifteen years ago, she credits Kawai Aona-Ueoka with pointing her in the right direction.  “After teaching us how to make the tools, and giving us baby wauke trees, the implication was, ‘You have the tools and the raw materials… let’s see what you can figure out next’.”   She also credits the Cultural Learning Center at Ka`ala in Wai`anae for having enough faith in her to hand her a curriculum and a classroom to begin her new career in kapa.  Mostly self taught after that, Dalani has continued to progress as a practitioner and teacher.

He Kumu Wai `Ole…..The Water Without a Source

                As a life-long artist, I am attracted to the many disciplines involved in kapa making; horticulture, graphic design, natural dye production, education and research, wood, stone and gourd work for tools, and the meditative rhythms of the beating itself.  Kapa making has given me opportunities to work quietly alone as well as on a world stage, and has allowed me to visit places and meet people I would have never otherwise.  At the heart of it is being allowed to share what I have learned from others and on my own about this practice of our Hawaiian ancestors; fashioning the clothing adornments from the bark of the wauke, or paper mulberry tree and creating an environment where kapa can continue to thrive.

                The `ōlelo no`eau refers to a story from Kawaihapai, O`ahu where fresh water miraculously appeared during a drought.   I am reminded that although we did not learn kapa making from our source…our grandmothers and Kupuna, as Kupuna ourselves, our grandchildren and our many students, will learn this art from us.

When I first saw the painting of kapa practitioner Pua Van Dorpe, serenely sitting at her kua, poised to continue pounding a sheet of kapa, I had no idea I would be led on such a journey.  As I look around at the other kapa makers, and at the many, many, many students that have been collectively taught kapa making, I can see that there is still something deeper that sets this group of not only artists, but cultural practitioners apart, and makes us able to sit for those long stretches of time doing something that you measure progress in quarters and halves of inches.  As a child I learned and enjoyed crocheting, knitting, embroidering and quilting, and didn't mind having to wait a long time to finally complete the finished product.  As a kapa maker I was able to indulge in so many different disciplines, all with their own issues and excitement.  Being able to craft my own tools as well as those for our students allowed me to work with precious and wonderful natural elements...smooth warm woods, hand-picked basalt pohaku from secret beaches and opihi shells gathered at a baby's birthday lu'au .  Working with modern tools and ancient traditions, learning cultivation methods to produce the smooth, straight stalks of wauke that would allow students to have a wonderful experience in their kapa making;  Becoming a scientist in the kitchen laboratory boiling up the bark, petals, leaves and roots that would become the brilliant blues, greens and yellows of kapa dyes, the unbelievable rainbow of colors that our kupuna loved to place on their kapa.  And then of course the scenting, and saving the maile and tuberose and pua keni keni leis from graduations to dry imbue inside the kapa, so that it could absorb the sweet subtle fragrance.  Kapa is, and continues to be a personal journey for me, as I continue to teach and to learn. One of the highlights of my kapa career was when I finally met Kahuna Kuku Kapa Pua Van Dorpe at her one woman kapa exhibit at the University of Hawaii.  It was one of those, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" moments that one has when finally in the presence of a personal icon, and I felt that my journey, at that time, had come full circle.

It seems that I am on my second, third and fourth circle now as I go forward with my work...teaching, cultivating and developing as a kapa artist.  I am very pleased to be able to share some of what I have learned, with all who want to learn, in the hopes of giving people a small appreciation of the seemingly simple yet complex work of my Hawaiian ancestors.