Julia: “Look! There’s some kukui leaves!”
Me: “Nope; not unfettered.”
Julia and I were on the hunt for kukui leaves. Because of its many uses, the kukui was named the State Tree of Hawai‘i. We need the leaves to make the neck lei for the ho‘ike, or hula graduation ceremony, for our Hawaiian Culture Class. We already denuded the lower branches of Julia’s neighbor’s kukui tree to create our practice lei using the third lei-making technique that our teacher, Lanakila Mangauil, showed us. It’s a wrapping process with a ti leaf base and kukui leaves, stems and all, tied on with raffia, called wili.
To get our practice leaves, Julia had to ask the neighbor to drive her truck under her tall tree where she crawled onto the truck scaffolding just to grasp the lower branches. They took everything within reach. Clearly that was not going to work again.
The leaves come in two types, large with five points (narrower but much bigger than a maple leaf) and smaller with three lobes. Lanakila had suggested the smaller leaves, “no bigger than your hand.” But for our practice lei, we had to use what we got, and I got the monster leaves. Frankly, my lei looked more like a horse collar or a wreath. All I’d have to do is add the candles and I’d have my Advent Wreath. But they don’t last long; thus the search for another kukui tree.
Up to now, we’ve had no trouble finding the materials we needed for the class (brown and green ti), because I have lots of ti in my yard. But this neck lei was a stumper. Where are we going to find kukui trees? “How about Kukuihaele?” someone asked us. Duh! Kukuihaele is a sweet little village near the rim of Waipi‘o Valley, about seven miles up the road from Honoka‘a. So Thursday, we piled into Julia’s little car, and drove up there for a reconnaissance trip. We barely knew what we were looking for, except that kukui trees are quite tall and the leaves are silvery-green. Ideally we’d find the smaller, three-lobed type. But for now, we just wanted to find any that we could identify and reach.
As we got closer to Kukuihaele, Julia spotted one. “There it is!”
“Yes, but it’s in someone’s yard. We need an unfettered kukui tree.” On top of that, we learned in the class that we had to ask permission of the tree itself and its environment to take the leaves and watch for a sign that permission had been granted. Julia knew a chant for that, so she sang it while we searched.
We began to glimpse the occasional kukui tree, but either too far away, down in a gulch, too tall, or fettered. Finally, we spied one along the highway (unfettered) and it had a little parking space beside it. We took the parking spot as the sign for permission to pick. Why else would it be there? We will need one of those loppers on the end of a pole, because the leaves are still too high. But we’ll be back on Monday to harvest our leaves.
On the way back, we noticed kukui trees everywhere. Once we had spent the time to know the tree and discern the environments where we found it, once we were present to it, we saw it. Which of course, was part of what Lanakila wanted us to learn; the class included not just Hawaiian culture, but the environment in which it evolved. It’s all one connected system.
As for “drooping my J,” Julia is referring to my Myers-Briggs profile: ESFJ (Extrovert-Sensing-Feeling-Judging). In the final pairing of P-J, people with P (Perceiving) tendencies, like Julia, go with the flow and keep their options open. People with J tendencies like me, make a to-list for Saturdays. We pay attention to detail, are organized and prepared. We drive to closure. We get frantic when we need kukui leaves for a project and don’t have any clue where to get them. Some would say we are rigid. Julia first told me to ‘let my J droop’ when I bugged her almost daily for three weeks to return the orange Homer bucket she had borrowed after gathering ti in my yard.
Worse yet, combine high J with high F and you get righteous indignation. (“It’s not my bucket – it’s my husband’s!”) Who me? Sigh. I really should work on being present to letting my J droop occasionally. But not while making my head lei and ti leaf skirt this weekend, and the neck lei on Monday. One must be persnickety and strive for perfection with all things hula.
PS: Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs test? Here’s a quick one you can take. What’s your profile?
For other essays about Diane’s Hawaiian Hula Class see:
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