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Rita Sadang’s lauhala mats and baskets

For nearly 50 years — from the early 1920s until 1972 — Rita Esquirra Sadang (1902-1976) made her home in the now long since vanished Kapaa Stable Camp on Kaapuni Road, Kauai, where she cultivated about an acre of fruit trees, vegetables and useful plants.

From her hala (pandanus) trees she would weave lauhala (hala leaf) living room mats and baskets for sale.

First, Rita would cut the lauhala off the trees and place them in a pile on her lanai.

Then she would strip the thorns off the edges of the lauhala on the wooden railing of her lanai, upon which she’d inserted two upright razor blades parallel to each other, with each blade separated by a width that was a bit less than the width of a typical leaf.

By running the leaves between these blades by hand, the thorns would be shorn off and, at the same time, the leaves would be cut to uniform widths.

Next, she would roll and then dry the leaves on the roof of her house until they turned brown, when she would undo the rolls and wipe them clean.

She was then ready to weave her mats and baskets, but first, she would share her lauhala with her second husband, Agapito Sadang, who would cut his portion into thinner strips for his hats.

In 1947, following the death of her first husband, Bernadino Esquirra — with whom she had 11 children — Agapito Sadang had joined her at Stable Camp from Camp 35 on Olohena Road near the bridge below Stable Camp, and the couple remained there until Agapito retired from Lihue Plantation 25 years later.

Rita’s lauhala weaving skills eventually even garnered the attention of Lihue Plantation manager Keith Tester during the 1950s.

With her granddaughter Ginger Beralas’s assistance, Rita once installed a finely made mat in the Tester family home at the old Lihue Plantation manager’s house at Koamalu, much to the Testers’ satisfaction.

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