Monday, September 8, 2003

Featured kahili are among the ornaments of the Aloha Festival's royal court, carried here by mo'i wahine (queen) Wanda Kehaulani Kamauoha. The 2003 Aloha Festivals Oahu ali'i also include, from left, kamali'i kane (prince) Gerred Kaweheokeaoo'ainahau Wago, mo'i (king) John Kalei Laimana Jr., (queen) and kamali'i wahine (princess) Davida Ilimamaekealoha Kupau. They will preside over Aloha Festivals events on this island.

Kahili care

A volunteer’s efforts help
keep the Aloha Festivals’
royal standards bright

Herman Lam knows what it's like to be a volunteer, by default.

During a staff meeting at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, where he runs the maintenance department, he was chosen to spearhead the hotel's kahili project.

The Aloha Festivals royal court kahili "were looking sort of sad, so we decided to help out," said Outrigger events coordinator Mary Foley.

But in determining who would be in charge of the task, there were no takers, and "all the eyeballs went my way," Lam said with a laugh. So, making kahili -- the feather standards of royalty -- for the court was added to his lengthy to-do list. He's presented the court with new kahili for the past two years, and hotel managers also rely on Lam to design the kahili that grace the hotel grounds.

He did have the option of turning down the honor, but "I took on the project willingly," he said. His only complaint, according to Foley, is that working on the kahili affects his golf game.

Herman Lam attaches feathers to floral picks using floral tape to create both hand-held and large kahili.

THE TASK OF MAKING the kahili entails wrapping feathers tightly to form sturdy half-blossoms. Bags containing 12,000 feathers fill Foley's office in the days leading up to Aloha Festivals, which opens Friday on Oahu. Floral tape and an abundance of supplies are strewn alongside the half-finished feather projects.

Before even starting the project, there was the problem of learning just how to make kahili. Although Lam was born and raised in Honolulu, he'd had no exposure to the art form. Such skills may not even have been in his genes. He was an engineer, not a crafter.

Feather workshops with Mary Lou Kekuewa and her daughter, Paulette Kahalepuna, had sparked the kahili project, and a workshop was held to teach hotel employees how to wash and prepare the feathers.

The engineering department did the heavy work of assembling the poles. "The general manager even came down and added a few feathers," Kahalepuna said. "It created an essence of fellowship. ... The employees had time to talk story."

Visits to the Bishop Museum also helped Lam familiarize himself with the art form and put his engineering mind to work, requiring helpers to pass a test. "It's all about uniformity and durability," he said. "Most people tend to not give it enough pressure."

Foley said: "Herman's a perfectionist. I haven't passed the kindergarten lesson, so he won't even let me touch the feathers. It's a real art form. Only a handful meet his expectations when wrapping the feathers. Only members of the staff who pass the test are allowed to even touch the feathers."

The pickiness extended to the feathers. Lam's kahili use Canadian goose feathers that most closely resemble those of the nene goose, while kahili at the Bishop Museum comprise a wide range of feathers, including ostrich and peacock. After determining the amount of feathers needed for a project, Lam still comes up short, but that's what happens when he feels compelled to reject a third of the feathers. He wants all his feathers to be uniform.

Kahalepuna became Lam's mentor. "He's fussy but that is a good thing," she said. "He cares about the workmanship."

A MAN OF FEW words, Lam didn't tell his family about his new responsibility, causing them to wonder why he was bringing feathers home. "Now, my wife, Barbara, helps me with the floral tape for the large kahili in the hotel," he said. "I normally work on them during lunch breaks and on the weekends, in my spare time."

Last year, the Royal Court's large pair of yellow kahili were replaced. His assignment next year is to make a large pair of red ones.

"The hand-held ones are much easier," he said. Each takes about eight to 10 hours and about 500 feathers to complete. More than 7,000 are used for the larger ones, standing 9 feet tall, and with a lot of help, Lam can complete one in about three months.

"After a couple of years, (the court's kahili) start to disintegrate," said Moana Yee, Aloha Festivals' Oahu Island manager. Traveling takes its toll on the feathers; they become dirty and start to fall out.

"The kahilis are costly, and we don't have funds to make new ones," Yee said. "Once in a while, someone in the court is talented with their hands, and they mend and restring them."

So the Outrigger's contributions are a blessing, she said. "We can relate to the amount of personal time invested to make the kahili."

Lam says his newfound "hobby" has become enjoyable. "It's not so good for my golf game because I use my hands so much, but it is therapeutic."

Kahalepuna is pleased that Lam has immersed himself in the Hawaiian culture, in spite of his Chinese roots. "If someone is not of Hawaiian ancestry, it doesn't make them any less a part of the Hawaiian community," Kahalepuna said.

Often, shoppers who visit Kahalepuna's store come across hand-held kahili and, not recognizing their symbolism, ask about the price of the "feather dusters," inviting Kahalepuna to "give them an education."

She says that kahili may start out as little more than adornment on a bird, but "once you put it together, it's a reflection of something of importance."

The art of aloha

The Outrigger-Ohana Employee Art Festival

Featuring: Herman Lam's kahili; photography by Perry Sorenson; wood carvings by Dr. Chuck Kelley and other employee artists
On view: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday; opens with a 4:30-6:30 p.m. reception tomorrow
Place: Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach upper lobby, 2335 Kalakaua Ave.
Admission: Free; $3 validated valet parking
Call: 923-0711

Royal ribbon

art "Hula Lives Through Its People" is the theme for this year's Aloha Festivals, and Mapuana Schneider's original watercolor "Hula 'Auana" graces the festival's 2003 commemorative ribbon, utilizing shapes and colors that reflect the movement and flow of hula.

Ribbon-wearers receive discounts at local restaurants and retailers, including discounts on Hawaiian jewelry, restaurant admission and restaurant items.

The ribbons are available for $5 at Bank of Hawaii branches; 7-Eleven, Hilo Hattie and Safeway stores; and Aloha Airlines ticket offices.

Ribbon sales help fund the statewide festival and provide discount admission to some events.

Aloha Festivals T-shirts, caps and other merchandise can also be purchased at the Aloha Festivals office at Ward Warehouse, above Nohea Gallery. The office is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Visit or call 589-1771 for more information.

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