Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

All that glitter not just gold

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

You hear her coming before you see her, clanking like wind chimes in a hurricane.

If you’re sitting on a Hawaiian Airlines flight, you duck your head fast as she reaches to put her manapua boxes in the overhead compartment. Go to a concert at the Shell and she’s in the front row, arms waving in the air, blocking your view with a sea of shiny gold.

The lady with the uku planny Hawaiian heirloom bracelets.

There’s a thing about this jewelry that’s hard to explain. It has something to do with pride, something to do with tradition, and there’s a dose of luxury in there as well. And there’s something else.

I could never quite put my finger on the thing about the bracelets until I spotted a Yellow Pages ad for a jeweler that spelled it out so plainly:

"If you only buy because of the cheapest price, you may find that when you compare your jewelry to your friend’s you could end up being embarrassed. Be sure you find a jeweler who will make the effort to produce jewelry you can be proud of. Something others will admire."

That’s it! Competition! An armload of bracelets means more than a volume discount deal at Violet’s. It tells the world the wearer is loved, that she is as adored as she is adorned.

And women take note of who’s got more, bigger, fancier, matchier. It all adds up to major status.

It also takes a strong personality to carry off all that jangle. If a woman is wearing those arm shields, the rest of us know just what that means. We give her room.

I see her, the aunty with the metal, and I think of a story a friend once told me. He saw his wife eyeing up the 10-on-each-arm lady with disdain, one eyebrow up, arms crossed, foot tapping. "She’s got too many!" said my friend’s wife, "And I’ve got too few!"

Not that it’s all about competition. Not at all. Most Hawaiian heirloom bracelets come with the sweetest stories you’ve ever heard, like the ones that mothers wear with their children’s names on them, bought when the babies are just born and handed down when they reach adulthood. Or they’re given to commemorate a special event. Perhaps even purchased by a halau as a gift for their kumu.

But you have to admit there is that element of comparison. Sometimes the competition is even openly acknowledged. There’s a story that’s made its way around town about a party scavenger hunt held by Robert Kekaula.

As a tie-breaker, Kekaula said the prize would go to the person in the room with the biggest Hawaiian heirloom bracelet.

The winner had something resembling a tuna can on her arm.

So next time you see Aunty with the armfuls of gold, ask her about her jewelry, listen to the story of where each piece came from, find out who every bracelet is named for. She’s dying to tell you.

Lee Cataluna’s column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com

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