Look for Traditional Kapa Fabric While You’re Visiting Maui

If you’re visiting Royal Lahaina Resort on your Maui family travel vacation, you may be interested in taking your family for some cultural outings. While hula skirts and Hawaiian-style shirts remain well-known on the US mainland, most people have almost certainly never been exposed to truly authentic Hawaiian clothing and cloth-making crafts, and your visit to Maui is a great chance to catch up.

Traditional Kapa fabric is one of Hawaii’s native crafts, and its creation has a very rich history. Given that Hawaii lacked both animals that could be shorn for wool, and plants like cotton that are friendly to thread-making, Hawaiians had to practice ingenuity when choosing materials.

Kapa fabric is made from bast fibers – the layer of a tree or shrub just underneath the rough outer bark. To make the bast suitable for weaving, it was carefully removed from the plant in one piece, then laid on a special board and beaten it in a very labor-intensive process, until the fibers could be separated, flattened and compressed again.

After the bast has been through one beating, it turns into strips of paper-like fibrous material that can be joined with others to make large pieces of cloth.

This is achieved during the second Kapa beating. This is when the cloth is formed into its final shape, then decorated and painted.

Traditionally, Kapa would be decorated with imprints of the cloth-beating tool, as well as color patterns made with dyes derived from local plants, using methods many of which have been lost in time.

Due to the amount of work required to make Kapa, it’s not a commonly-found item in Hawaii today, and only artisans are truly versed in this mysterious art. Keep an eye out for this beautiful fabric – if you can find it, it will make a truly unique memento of your time on Maui!