COURTESY HAWAII GOURD SOCIETY
Gourds in Honaunau on the Big Island are ready to harvest when their vine leaves turn brown.
Guardian of the gourd
Mary Amos of the Hawaii Gourd Society leads the way in revitalizing the isle-grown ipu culture
Mary Amos became enamored by the ipu when she first set eyes on the decorated gourds in 2006.
She was sold on the artistic method - elaborate designs created by carving a relief into the gourd's skin; the gourd then filled with coffee that dyes it from the inside out. "I've been an artist for 50 years," she said. "It's the most wonderful medium that I've come across."
NIIHAU PAWEHE GOURD WORKSHOP
» When: Noon to 3 p.m. July 13
» Place: Native Books/Na Mea, Ward Warehouse
» Cost: $100; includes all supplies
» Call: 596-8885; reservations required
» On the Net: www.hawaiigourdsociety.com; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the love affair evolved, Amos made it her business to continually revitalize Hawaiian ipu culture. She regularly passes out ipu seeds, participates in festivals and conducts workshops. And she established the Hawaii Gourd Society, which now has about 200 members.
In ancient Hawaiian culture, gourds played an important role in everyday life, serving as bowls, water carriers and instruments, Amos explained.
She and Evie Morby, a society member, will present a workshop on the Niihau method of gourd decorating at Native Books July 13. Participants will learn to carve and dye the designs.
"We will work on green ipu, and that is a challenge for all," she said. "But the final pieces will be considered art that can be transformed into lamps. The actual art designing is very easy, and in the end the ipu is the artist."
The workshop will use ipu grown locally, but most of the dried gourds come into Hawaii now from California. "The hula halaus have been buying their ipu from California for some years, and we would like to change that practice," she said. "We are getting seeds out to the members of the community so folks can grow their own."
The efforts have paid off, and gourd farms have been established on the Big Island in Honaunau and in Hana, Maui.
"The Hawaiian ipu are back," Amos said. "Hawaiians shaped and grew the widest variety of ipu known to man. The California gourds are thicker and do not produce the same tones, sounds and art."
On the Big Island farm, Amos helps tend to about 100 ipu plants, which take six to eight months to mature. Each vine should produce about 10 pieces. Hundreds of different seeds genetically decide the shape of the gourds. The plants are hand-pollinated to assure both shape and variety. She spends several hours a day and most of her weekends tending to the plants.
"Every day when you look at the plants growing, it just draws you in ... They are very precious," Amos said.
The drying process typically takes from six months to a year, with the gourds left in a dry, sunny area. The gourd needs to dry completely, from the inside out.
"The community is just beginning to awaken to their own ipu needs," Amos said. "We are hard-wired to keep the ipu tradition alive in Hawaii and to share this wonderful cultural jewel with the world."