Kilipaki and lauhala hats in Honolulu, 1903.


Art of Hat Making is Falling Into Decadence Among the Hawaiians and Was Chief Industry Among the South Sea Islanders.



With the departure of the Gilbert Islanders for their South Sea home in the British S. S. Isleworth, the art of native hat making is likely to fall into decadence. Strange as it may seem the majority of the native hats sold in Honolulu for many years past have been made by the Lewalewas who in turn were taught the art by the Hawaiians. Form the Island of Hawaii come the more expensive native hats, and the departure of the Gilbert Islanders will undoubtedly give an impetus to the art in Kona and Kohala.

In and around Honolulu there are but few Hawaiians who have the deft art at their fingers ends, and except among the older generations of natives, little about hat making is known. As with hat weaving, so with the making of mats. An old native woman at Waikiki is one of the few who can repair mats, and another in Manoa valley still manufactures mats, large and small. The present generation of Hawaiians has not added hat and mat weaving to its accomplishments.

A couple of years ago the Gilbert Islanders has a village on the naval reservation on the Waikiki side of the harbor channel. Camera fiends and brush artists found the village a picturesque attraction, where nearly all the women villagers manufactured the cheaper grade of hats which were sold here for $1 and $1.50.

The Honoluluans will miss the Gilbert Islanders from the streets on which they appeared barefooted and generally with about half a dozen of the cheap hats in their hands, going from one store to another in quest of a purchaser for the lot. When a tourist arrives in Honolulu about the first thing he or she does is to seek a curio store and invest in a native hat, and after adorning it with a flaring striped pugaree “do” the sights of the city. The hats have always an attraction for the newcomer. But few of the malihinis or even kamaainas have ever seen them made.

The Gilbert Islanders, as well as the natives, but not the present generation, are born hat weavers. with a wealth of material these people weave strands of fiber, ferns, grasses and striped stalks into the oddest possible conceits. Here almost everything green that grows in the earth can be utilized to practical ends, and the chief purpose to which they are put is in transforming such materials into hats. From the grasses that spring up near the seashore to the scraggy bushes that grow near the highest mountain ridges, the Hawaiian makes use of all. If the grass cannot be eaten, it can be woven into something that will clothe or adorn. But the art of making hats is an art to which the Hawaiians seemed especially adapted and which they passed on to the Gilbert Islanders. From a few ugly strands of tough grasses, from a delicate fiber taken from the inside of a pumpkin vine, or even from the stem of the dainty maiden hair fern, hats of the jauntiest type imaginable are made. The strands are braided with unerring accuracy and the inches rapidly grow into fathoms almost before the watcher comprehends the methods employed.

The hat most common in Honolulu is that made of the young leaf of the hala. The material is boiled, then dried and afterwards scraped until it is quite smooth. The strips thus made are coiled into rolls and woven over a block. There are two species of the hala—the white and the red. The red hala makes the rich brown hat, which is more expensive than the white one.

(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 10/17/1903, p. 3)


The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Volume XXXVIII, Number 6613, Page 3. October 17, 1903.

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