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Finding home away from home

With summer upon us and vacation days unfolding, I thought about how voyagers and travelers always took a piece of home along on their travels or, when resettling, found similarities reminding them of home. If possible, they could pack along familiar foods as well as their ideologies and cultural practices to plant literally and figuratively in a new land or settlement. Names, too, accounting for the many “New Something- or-others” in the “New-found-lands.”

As we flew at jet-speed over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean toward our Colorado destination under an indigo sky dotted with stars and planets above the clouds, I was thinking of the small surprises I had tucked in my duffel to bring my grown children and grandchildren as reminders of our Hawaii nei, which they have liked visiting: a fish-hook pendant plus sharks teeth; a wristband sporting a carved turtle; ethnic snacks; a fish-shaped bottle holder; and a UH shirt, among other things. The “luau-flavored” rawhide chews for family dogs brought their laughs to their owners. Our aloha and prayers for happiness for all were released into hugs and laughter during shared times. We felt our spirits overflow as a cresting wave when reunited with beloved kin.

For the original Polynesian voyagers, it would have been what we now call the “canoe plants” that were brought to ensure survival. These would have included ulu, or breadfruit, coconuts, kalo, or taro varieties, and maia, bananas — plus Asian jungle fowl and puaa, domestic pigs, and beyond that, the blowing of the pu, conch shell, and their pule, prayers offered each night and day. Also brought forward was the collective wisdom and knowledge of experts in the fields of not only navigation and reading the stars, but agriculture, healing and massage, site planning, fishing expertise, weaving, stone carving, storytelling and more. This writer can only claim to have brought a smattering of knowledge about and respect for such Hawaiian cultural practices and knowledge back to what we refer to as the Mainland.

Following our grandson’s graduation ceremony and celebration, we spent a day browsing the Denver Art Museum. The Western art was representative of the place in which we were now visitors. But on one floor of the museum, in the Native American arts, I felt the distinct pull of my island home as I gazed upon some woven kapas. One, made back in the 1800s, was the size of several generous bed sheets joined together. It hung displaying layers of natural bleached bark colors. These were punctuated by designs imprinted by the kapa-beaters, intersected by bands of subtle shades harking back to the red earth of Kauai. I did not have a photo snapped to send as a JPEG, such as seen in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, of couples before various “Aloha” restaurants and “luau” settings around the world, which we often see printed after residents’ journeys out from the Hawaiian Islands. However, my view of that impressive kapa stimulated visions of the hands that gathered and stripped the wild mulberry, soaked the coils of wauke bark, drained and patiently pounded them out, as drumbeats hammering the natural bark cloth.

I received another reminder of home on the day I pulled on my Queen Emalani shirt from the Eo e Emalani Alakai Festival 2013 and answered my little granddaughter’s question, “Who is that lady?” by telling her the story of how and why Queen Emma came to Kauai and endeared herself to the people of our island with her interest in plants and flowers, and her trek in search of these up to the Kokee forest.

Isabella remembered her own visit to Kokee and listened, wide-eyed, as she heard how Emalani came from Oahu to recover herself after the death of her son, the young Albert, and very shortly after that first tragedy, the loss of her husband, King Kamehameha IV in 1863.

Many good memories of my favorite festival in the Kokee meadow poured out. Also recalled were my visits to the Nuuanu summer palace, and my feelings when allowed to play Queen Emma’s piano, knowing she had once played the same classical pieces I had studied that were bound in a volume of classics on display Then, the carved Victorian cradle, a gift from her friend Queen Victoria specially made for the young Hawaiian prince, who was given the name Albert in honor of the English queen’s consort.

If you missed the special PBS program about Queen Emma that aired recently, you may wish to tap into its availability of Na Mele via the PBS website. The information that circulated to me via the Ka Imi Institute’s “coconut wireless” is that Queen Emma in her day was loved and admired similarly to Diana, the Princess of Wales in contemporary times — not only in the Kingdom of Hawaii, but also abroad, and especially in Europe. Now, there is a connection.

If you are interested in reading more on kapa making, check out and for the Denver Art Museum exhibition,”The Art of Bark Cloth” will be on exhibit through Aug. 27.

We’ll soon be retracing our path over the ocean, parting from family in Colorado, returning home. Perhaps the red earth of our island will now remind us of the Red Rocks area of the Rocky Mountains, and great boulders of The Garden of the Gods. Next time we picnic in the Sugi Grove of Kokee State Park, we may find it reminiscent of the St. Vrain River we hiked along north of Boulder. Always, the connections … a circle, joining peoples in time and space.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara found her home and her heart on Kauai three decades ago. She is the founder and principal of DAWN Enterprises through TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings and Celebrations-Kauai.


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