HA‘ENA — Sitting in the living room of her family’s one-story home in Ha‘ena, Violet Hashimoto Goto scurries to the back of her house. She returns with a plastic container in her hands.
“This is what I do,” Hashimoto Goto says as she pulls out strand after strand of hand-sewn shell lei from the container. “These shells are collected right here, right outside my door.”
Hashimoto Goto’s tutu taught her how to sew the lei pupu o Ha‘ena when she was a little girl. She would go to Ha‘ena Beach and lay in the sand for hours combing the sand for shells — a practice she still does to this day.
After collecting the tiny shells — some just a few millimeters long — Hashimoto Goto washes them and sorts them by color. In her home, the soft-spoken 80-year-old has jar after jar filled with these delicate shells. Their colors range from brilliant whites to rosy pinks, from deep golds to soft blues.
“Nobody does it here,” Hashimoto Goto says as she fingers her shell lei. “I find joy in it.”
While the collection of shell lei that Hashimoto Goto sews is easily worth thousands of dollars, she has no intention of selling them. Instead, the 80-year-old Ha‘ena native gives her necklaces away as presents or donates them to nonprofit organizations to be sold at fundraising auctions.
“When someone says to me, ‘Aunty, I need a present because my friend is having a birthday and she is special,’ I say take a lei.”
“They say ‘Oh, I can’t take it because it’s something too precious to give.’ I say ‘no, because it comes out of here,’” Hashimoto Goto said as she points to her heart. “Anything that you give from the heart, you find more pleasure.”
Her ability to sew lei pupu O Ha‘ena is one of many reasons why Hashimoto Goto has been selected as a Living Treasure by the Kaua‘i Museum for Artistic Excellence and Education in Traditional Hawaiian Culture. She will be honored Saturday during a luncheon at the Kaua‘i Beach Resort in Lihu‘e.
“I cried,” Hashimoto Goto said. “I said ‘What do I have to offer being a Living Treasure?’”
Those lucky enough to know Goto, or even strangers who happen to have shared a conversation with the petite 80-year-old, know that her wealth of knowledge is a treasure itself.
Born in 1931, Hashimoto Goto was born into a family who spoke fluent Hawaiian and was raised on Kaua‘i’s then-unspoiled North Shore. She clearly remembers the times when Ha‘ena was a bustling fishing village.
Now, she can rattle off a list of celebrity neighbors who bought homes adjacent to her family’s land, which is located mere steps away from Ha‘ena Beach.
Growing up, Hashimoto Goto carefully studied the ways of her elders and learned how to prepare and weave lauhala, sew quilts and string necklaces.
“When I was growing up as a child, my tutus were all living,” Hashimoto Goto said. “What they did is a treasure now. When they quilted, I was right there. I learned the culture. Then, there was another tutu that wove mats, so I was right in there.
“The shells were always here, but nobody knew about them. I picked those shells, and I learned from my tutus. I learned the old-fashioned way of how they did it, which is beautiful.”
These days, Hashimoto Goto finds pleasure in practicing the skills she learned as a child, including squidding.
“We have a beautiful shoreline. When the tide is low, you see all the reefs, so I go out squidding. I love the art picking the squid, and of course you use for home consumption, which is a delicacy for many,” she said.
On Thursdays, Hashimoto Goto visits Waipa to help make poi, where she talks story with total strangers and shares her Hawaiian heritage with them while spreading the spirit of aloha.
The Kaua‘i Museum’s Living Treasures of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau luncheon celebration is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Kaua‘i Beach Resort.
Since 1988, the museum honors people as “Living Treasures” for their contributions to culture, education and the welfare of the people of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.
Tickets are $50 per person or $450 for a table of ten. Call 245-6931 or 246-2470 for more information.
• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.