Oral history meets design: Local artist creates wearable art

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For many people, clothing isn’t something that is given much thought. Like the food we eat and the water we drink, getting dressed is an average everyday occurrence. But what if clothing told a story? What if it shared details of a history steeped in legend? Just like food consumption, one can choose to eat or dine. Clothing offers a similar option—one can cover up or they can express and entertain.

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For many people, clothing isn’t something that is given much thought. Like the food we eat and the water we drink, getting dressed is an average everyday occurrence. But what if clothing told a story? What if it shared details of a history steeped in legend? Just like food consumption, one can choose to eat or dine. Clothing offers a similar option—one can cover up or they can express and entertain.

Local artist Kira Kamamalu believes clothing can be a powerful storyteller, and through her new line of classic Hawaiian dresses and shirts, she hopes those who don her wearable art will share the stories and legends of ancient Hawaii with others.

“The whole idea is that you’re wearing this dress and someone says, ‘Oh, I love your dress,’” said Kamamalu. “You can say, ‘well, this is the story of Maui holding up the islands with the magic hook his mom gave him.’ The designs tell a story and perpetuates the oral history in a way that’s naturally fluid.”

Kamamalu’s new line consists of designs that share the stories of three different Hawaiian legends — the legend of Maui the demigod, the legend of Pele and the legend of Haloa. Each story is pictorially designed into each article of clothing. She chose the legends from the elements of earth, water and fire, with the intention of adding additional elements into future designs.

“The first legend is about Pele,” said Kamamalu. “It’s the story of her leaving Tahiti with her brother. the shark god. who led her away from Tahiti. She travels with Hiiaka I Ka poli o Pele, her younger sister, in the form of an egg to search out a new home. She digs her oo stick into each of the islands to figure out where she really wants to live and she makes her home in Kilauea. Also represented on the dress is her flower, the lehua. The legend says if you go to the volcano and pick the lehua blossom, it will rain Pele’s tears.”

Another fabric design tells the story of Maui, the demigod and depicts him catching the islands with a magic hook given to him by his mother.

“In the design, Maui has his brothers rowing with him,” said Kamamalu. “The legend says that Maui tells them not to look, but one brother looks back anyway and the hook snaps and that’s why we now have these islands.”

The third legend describes the story of Haloa, the first Hawaiian and the name of the kalo plant.

“The symbol for this design is the kalo and the poi pounder,” said Kamamalu. “In this legend, Hoohokulani, the daughter of father sky, and mother earth, gave birth to a still born baby. She buried the baby in the earth and it grew into a little kalo plant from her tears watering the grave. She named him Haloa, meaning long breath or eternal life. She had another child, who was the first Hawaiian, and she also named him Haloa. This represents the symbiotic relationship between Hawaiian brotherhood and the Earth.”

Kamamalu’s designs are classic and retro. Inspired by her mother’s (Marlina Lee) collection of antique Hawaiian dresses and her grandmother’s storytelling, she has woven the legends of Hawaii in to wearable art.

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“My grandmother (Irene “Grama” Lee) used to ask me, ‘What is your story.’ She was the greatest storyteller ever. With this line of clothing, I realized I can really help perpetuate our history and our culture through this art of story telling.”

Kamamalu’s designs are available at her gallery in Holualoa and at Kona Rock and Minerals on Alii Drive in Kona. For more information, contact Kira at kamamalu@me.com. ■

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