Native Intelligence

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Story by Jill Engledow

native intelligenceFrom a fierce, woven war god that could have traveled with Kamehameha, to stylish lauhala jewelry, to a koa surfboard, Hawaiian art made by practitioners of ancient crafts is on display at Native Intelligence. The store on Wailuku’s Market Street is operated by Kapono‘ai Molitau, a kumu hula who also creates some of the shop’s exquisite items.

Feather lei lie gleaming in a glass case; the giant gourds called ipu heke stand ready for a chanter’s beat; and dried or frozen ‘awa awaits connoisseurs of that calming Polynesian medicinal plant. Kupuna (elders) who deliver fresh-strung lei sometimes hang out, talking story in Hawaiian and strumming their ‘ukulele. And pa‘i ‘ai, the pounded kalo that is the precursor to poi, is delivered by West Side musician and farmer George Kahumoku.

Most of the shop’s products are from Maui practitioners, says Molitau—not all Hawaiian, but all skilled at techniques that use Hawai‘i’s    natural resources and native intelligence to produce things of beauty. The store also hosts cultural events, from hula to kalo-pounding contests to “oli slams” that showcase Hawaiian-language performances, usually held during Wailuku’s monthly First Friday celebrations. It’s all part of Molitau’s goal to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary Hawai‘i in “a cultural resource center disguised as a store.”

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