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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 23, 2001

Enthusiasm for making sailing canoe is spreading through La'ie

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser North Shore Bureau

LA'IE — A double-hulled voyaging canoe that will one day serve as a floating classroom and a gathering place for the community is taking shape at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i under the hands of master carvers Tuione Puloto and Kawika Eskaran. But something even more profound is happening.

Robert Kaitoku, left, and sons Teancum and Tallin watch master carver Kawika Eskaran and Arthur Enos chip away on a log. Tuione Pulotu, standing in background, is the other master carver on the La'ie project.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

When giant logs for the canoe arrived from Fiji recently, BYUH students joined Pulotu and Eskaran in work both spiritual and physical.

Then neighboring residents and others began to stop by, first out of curiosity, to see the canoe, then to drop off food for the workers or to perform odd chores. As the voyaging canoe harks back to a proud heritage, so the community participation is reminiscent of Polynesian custom from long ago.

"We're seeing a resurgence of Hawaiian village culture," said William Wallace, director of BYUH Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies. "We'd be working and a car would drive up and people would bring us food."

The project has been under way for only two weeks, but already dozens of people have stopped by.

Darol Makaiau was among those at the site yesterday. He dropped off about two dozen manini he caught that morning before heading to work for Hawaiian Electric Co. The canoe project has bonded the community, Makaiau said, and everyone tries to help in their own way.

"Not everyone is a canoe carver or artist, so whatever your talent, you share," he said. "I catch fish, so I bring fish here."

Communal imu

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the workers fire up an imu and cook the donated food for anyone who happens to be there for lunch. They've received fish, sweet potatoes, tapioca, sugarcane, a whole pig and a couple of pork butts, Pulotu said.

 •  WHAT: Carving of a 55-foot, double-hulled sailing canoe.

WHERE: On Kamehameha Highway at the entrance to Brigham Young University-Hawai'i in La'ie.

WHEN: The public is invited to visit between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring food.

Pulotu, 62, had decided not to cook yesterday because so much food was left over from Tuesday. Then preschool students from the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center showed up, bringing enough stew and rice and pizza to feed everybody. About 20 children from Na Kamalei Ko'olauloa Early Education Program ate lunch and played with the wood chips in the roughed-out canoes.

Two large silver canopies mark the site of the project, in a park on Kamehameha Highway at the entrance to the university. Under one, weekly university classroom sessions are held. The other shelters a 30-foot log and several pieces of the carved hulls. Another log sits in the open under an ironwood grove, but everything is covered when no work is being done because the lumber is still green and must dry slowly.

The smell of the open imu, lined with blackened rocks, hints at the food that was cooked in the pit.

Wood chips and shavings litter the ground, but most of the by-products are collected in bags or piled next to the imu. Rough-cut boards lie under cover, waiting to become the canoe's platforms, tillers or connector pieces.

$619,000 from W.H. Kellogg

As many as 15 people are working at a time, Pulotu said. Yesterday, Arthur Enos, 69, was sanding paddles carved by Pulotu that will be presented to board members of the W.H. Kellogg Foundation, which is paying for the $619,000 canoe project, an undertaking of the BYUH Hawaiian Studies Center. Enos is a retired elementary school teacher who makes replicas of Hawaiian artifacts and has worked with Pulotu on other carvings, including a large chair from one piece of wood for the king of Tonga.

"I've known him (Pulotu) for years and admire his ability and his talent, his skillfulness with his hands," Enos said.

Pulotu has carved more than 30 canoes, including a 105-foot, double-hulled vessel for the king of Tonga.

The atmosphere around the work site is relaxed, but progress has been swift for this type of project, said Eskaran, 45. The project could be finished in July or August.

For all the history and spirituality involved in the building of a voyaging canoe, there have been concessions to progress.

Pulotu shapes the outside and inside of the canoe hulls with a chainsaw and has workers dig out the rest of the material with hand-held adz that he designed. The chainsaw saves time and conserves wood, said Eskaran, pointing to a pile of boards that would have been shavings if traditional methods were employed.

The crew tries to observe as much tradition as possible and recognizes the spiritual aspect of the work, he said, "because there is a lot of reverence when you do use hand tools with only the sweat of your brow."

"I'm sure if our Hawaiian forefathers had the opportunity to use quicker, faster methods, they would have employed them," said Eskaran.