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The first lā‘ī skirt

July 17, 2009

Now that the Kaila teams move into Honolulu proper is now settled, we have finally have a chance to share some pictures of our lā‘ī skirt that this Kaila editor wore in a recent hula competition in June. This was my first competition and the first time having to dance in a skirt. The process was long and intensive. First, there was cleaning the leaves of the (Cordyline terminalis), trimming, and deboning. Then, the hours of tying leaf after leave to the main cord.  In all, the whole experience was deeply humbling, showing me the talent of our ancestors to transform simple leaves into an organic costume.


One integral part to the crafting process was the mindset one has when making the skirt. Thought and emotions are carried directly into the garment that will be worn. Despite the few hours of sleep I had after cleaning the leaves, I was ready to go the following morning. The freshness of the morning, I’ve realized, is the best time for me to do this kind of work. By the time night comes, my thoughts are too scattered to do anything this concentrated.


As someone who’s accustomed to doing modern Western-style work—reading, writing, etc.—taking on these traditional tasks tends to be nerve-wracking, honestly. My hands aren’t using to working with delicate leaves and often break and shread them. But with this lā‘ī skirt, the process eventually became meditative, after the initial shock to the system. Of course, dancing with an additional twenty pounds was not at all easy, especially when it came time to lift my heels with each ‘uwehe step. Then there was the entirely ephemeral moment of wearing the skirt. Hours of preparation (just like the hours of rehearsing the dances) just for a few minutes beneath the stage lights. A brief glimmer of fresh green before vanishing into the shadows, just as the ho‘i goes….

Ho‘i ē ho‘i lā

Ho‘i ē ka ‘ohu e

I ka uka lehua

A‘o kula manu ē …


Returning, returning

The mists return

To the uplands of the lehua

The home of the birds …

Following the end of the competition, we were instructed to keep all of our adornments that we wore. Instead of merely discarding them, the skirt and lei are now drying in the wind. Once any final moisture has dissipated, they will all be burned and turn into ash for dying for hula garments to be created in the future. Hours of labor and effort, of song and dance and memory, reduced into one singular, concentrated color.

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