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Virtually extinct for over a century, hale—traditional Hawaiian houses—are making a comeback with the new millennium.

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Students learn every step of building a traditional hale: layout and design; ground and site preparation; harvesting, preparation and use of native woods; construction of platform/stonewall  footing and posts; proper lashing techniques; protocol and ceremony. Sinenci has certified 20 students—Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, men and women —as hale builders.

Sinenci also created a hale builder’s ha‘a—a dance depicting the steps of building a hale in the traditional way, which he and his students perform before starting work. They embrace the hale builder’s creed: Ina ue ka lani, e pale ‘oe (“When the heavens cry, I will protect you”). To acknowledge their accomplishment, Sinenci presents his graduates with a hale pupu. The single shell strung on a thin cord was once an animal’s home; the knot Sinenci ties in the cord represents the student’s skill level.

Graduates have helped build hale at Maui Nui Botanical Garden, Maui Community College, and Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens in ‘Iao Valley; they’ve restored the hale moe at the Hana Cultural Center (restoring the original Sinenci built), the hale ku‘ai at Haleakala National Park at Kipahulu, and the hale halawai (meetinghouse) on Kaho‘olawe Island.

Certified hale builders are now taking on their own projects. Richard Lopez, an ethnic Hawaiian and a member of Sinenci’s first graduating class in 2003, is seeking County approval for a hale vacation rental on his property in East Maui. “The laws are steppingstones. But they need to be upgraded in order to move the hale from just educational facilities and monuments to functional dwellings,” Lopez says. “These structures are suited for Hawai‘i’s environmental conditions.”

Promoting a permanence of Hawaiian culture through native architecture, Sinenci, Lopez, and this new breed of Hawaiian hale builders hope to move the hale from snapshots seen only in old slideshows or history books to a place of prominence—making a lasting impression on both residents and visitors. Says Lopez, “The hale reinstates a physical native Hawaiian presence in our urban environment.”

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