Patience, patience and even more patience.
It took mama Ane Kanahele of Kekaha almost two years to make a Niihau pupu (shell) lei she sold for $22,000. The 25-strand lei was made out of kahelelani shells.
“I love them, so they paid little by little,” laughed the lei maker. “It takes time, but we all need money. She was so happy because I give time for them. I’m not in a rush.”
Mama Ane said she uses momi shells, kahelelani and poleho, to name a few, which come in an assortment of colors.
“Going be different colors — all just like rainbow — green, red, beige color and flower pink, red, black and brown,” she said. “Kahelelani means steps of heaven. Momi is pearls. We called that momi of the pupu.”
Mama Ane learned the art of lei-making at the age of nine from her mother, Ku‘uleialoha Kanahele.
“My mom was a lei maker, and she is one of the best — doing any kind lei: shells, feather lei, all different style,” she said. “When you make lei, she tell us, ‘You two girls. Come here. Now is your … time to learn this’.”
Nowadays, the 79-year-old grandmother of 22 and great-grandmother of 23 has the help of her family.
“My shells (are) from my grandchildren; they live on Niihau,” she said. “They just pick up a bottle or bag of shells, and they sent the bag, love you, ma.”
Nui Kanahele, one of mama Ane’s granddaughters, was in Kekaha Thursday carefully poking puka (holes) in each tiny kahelelani shell. One by one she poked — out of the thousands that were gathered that morning from the Forbidden Isle.
“I just came back from picking up shells,” she said. “I just learn from my grandma when she needs help. It’s so hard. It’s hard work. My grandma has a lot of patience in doing it. I don’t have that much patience.”
Mama Ane said it takes two days to make a single strand, 20-inch momi lei using 480 shells.
“For making one plain momi lei, you gotta gather and separate one day, then you string one day,” she said. “I start 7 o’clock (in the morning) until evening time — 7 or 8. The only thing is to separate, which color I know is plenty, then I make the puka. When I know it’s ready for make one lei, I make the lei.”
Kahikiui Kanahele, mama Ane’s other granddaughter who was making a men’s puka shell on Thursday, said making modern shell jewelry is an easier, less time-consuming process.
“I don’t make (kahelelani) lei,” she said. “I was trying, but like me, I don’t have the have patience. My grandma said you need to start to make lei.”
Mama Ane said brightly colored kahelelani lei are higher priced.
“If you only put bright colors, that’s high priced: It’s like $500 to $2,000,” she said. “It takes a couple of months (to make).”
Some of the styles include pikake, single pikake, single-string lei and kipona.
“You put half of (them) momi and then you put … kahelelani,” she said. “We call that kipona lei. Kipona means patch — patch of momi and patch of kahelelani.”
Mama Ane said the next time someone from the paper visits, we should spend the day making lei with her.
“Next time you come my house, you going make with me and see how hard it is,” she laughed. “This is my whole life. Now I move here and this is my life here. I don’t have anything else.”