LIHUE — Mama Ane Kanahele said it takes her about three or four days to go around Niihau.
“I love my island,” Kanahele said. “It’s a small island, but it takes three or four days for go around — with horse.”
Kanahele, a Kauai Museum Living Treasure, and her Niihau ohana was the focal point of Niihau Day which was celebrated at the Kauai Museum Saturday.
Niihau is situated about 18 miles off the west coast of Kauai across the Kaulakahi Channel, spans 72 square miles and is the smallest and oldest of the Hawaii’s inhabited islands.
Niihau is part of Kauai County, said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. But it is a private island that has remained unburdened by the outside world, most of its 250 residents being of Hawaiian descent, sharing a special lifestyle and living without electricity, roads, hotels or restaurants.
“The Robinsons own Niihau,” Kanahele said. “Rent? They take care us. No mo. We buy food and they deliver to us.”
A Hawaii State Legislature commendation for Kanahele said that while the natural beauty of Hawaii is recognized throughout the world, the real beauty of our island state lies in its people, who, through their personal relationships with their families, friends and neighbors, and through their selfless efforts to serve others, have helped to create prosperity, not just for themselves, but for future generations.
“You have to hurry to get shell,” Kanahele said. “You wear long sleeve as protection, along with long pants and one hat. You just go regular. Whatever you put on, go. Some people spend time putting on make-up. They spend so much time putting make-up, by the time they go, all the shell gone.”
On Saturday, various craft, including the unique Niihau shell lei, were showcased and demonstrated. Almost all of the activities centered around the matriarch who was born in 1936 and raised on Puuwai, Niihau.
People mingled while moving through the tables and stations featuring various Niihau shell lei created by the Kanahele ohana.
“This is about the moopuna,” said Jane Gray, the Kauai Museum director. “Mama Ane wants her moopuna to learn about the craft and the lei.”
Similar to the passion for the Hawaiian culture shared by Aunty Janet Kahalekomo and the relationship to the Hanapepe salt pans, we celebrate and recognize Na Ohana o Niihau for perpetuating the Hawaiian culture through their unique language, stories, music and the art of shell lei making, Carvalho said.