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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2002

Kaua'i canoe-building effort revived

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

WAIMEA, Kaua'i — A 26-foot wooden sailing canoe is taking shape under a thatched roof at the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

Kaiolohia Maii said he hopes the canoe will help students learn about Hawaiian culture and the ways of the sea.

Jan Tenbruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

Its traditional shape was cut from an albizzia log by Wright "Wrighto" Bowman Jr., the late master canoe builder.

Bowman, 53, died in 1997 of a heart attack before he could complete the project, which included educating youngsters, training apprentices in the art of canoe building, planting an ethnobotanical garden and more. It was financed with a grant from the Native Hawaiian Community Based Education Learning Center to Kaua'i Community College, where the canoe was started.

While much of the other work moved forward, the canoe sat unattended, warping and cracking.

Now, more than four years after Bowman's death, the rough-shaped log is being worked on once again.

Its completion involves a special kind of circle.

Kaiolohia Maii, the man doing the majority of the work, learned much of his craft from Bowman. He is being advised by the acknowledged veteran of Hawaiian canoe work, 94-year-old Wright Bowman Sr. — Wrighto Bowman's father.

And, they are carrying on the mentoring tradition by working with a group of young apprentices from Kaua'i and Ni'ihau.

Maii, 27, said that while work sometimes progresses better with fewer helpers, the involvement of those learning the craft is a part of his commitment. "Laulima and lokahi, this idea of many hands working together in a cause," he explained, using the Hawaiian words for cooperation and harmony.

Kaiolohia Maii learned from Wright "Wrighto" Bowman Jr., the late master canoe builder.

Jan Tenbruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

He works under a canoe house whose beams are lashed with cord. The structure is thatched with fan palm fronds, providing shade from the hot west Kaua'i sun, yet allowing the cooling breeze to blow through.

The canoe house may be traditional, but not all the work is. Maii uses power and hand tools, as do most modern canoe builders.

Modern adhesives allow build-ers to make solid, safe watercraft out of materials that early canoe builders would have had to reject.

The broad cracks in the hull are being spanned with wooden patches.

Maii said he hopes the finished canoe will be able to share its time between the west side of Kaua'i and the island's north shore, providing a vehicle for students to learn more about Hawaiian culture and the ways of the sea.

Wright Bowman Sr. said that to his knowledge, the Kaua'i canoe was the last one his son started. Helping finish the project is a kind of family commitment, he said, "because it was my son's canoe."

During his life, the younger Bowman shaped more than 50 racing canoes from koa logs, and in 1990 built the double-hulled voyaging canoe Hawai'iloa from two Alaskan spruce logs.