Cover Story continued

Early Craft

You need the soul of an archeologist or anthropologist to fully appreciate this book, or to need a copy of it on your shelves–page upon page of simple line drawings of things Hawaiians made and used.

But if you have ever seen a Hawaiian artifact in a museum and wondered about its use (like finding a dainty little crystal dish in great-grandma’s attic, and not knowing it was for storing hairpins), check this out of the library.

Arbeit, a specialist in Polynesian crafts and former co-editor of the annual Pacific Arts journal, has gathered sketches of objects ranging from spit bowls to burden poles.

Hawaiians were considered “primitive” by Westerners at first contact for many reasons, but not least because their raw materials were limited: wood, plant fibers, animal skin (or bone, teeth, feathers), stone–no metal.

Arbeit has included only the pieces that predate known Western contact. Resourceful Hawaiians used everything, even what washed ashore from the wreckage of Western ships before they’d ever seen one, and adapted fast.

But their work was highly sophisticated and, like that little dish in the attic, offer an intriguing glimpse into everyday Hawaiian life, practical, ceremonial and sacred. Did you know more than 1,000 Hawaiian games have been documented, and among them were many involving complex string figures (“slip tricks”), in which each configuration was associated with various mythological or historical stories, jokes, puns or chants?

Page through this book and see if Hawaiians were “primitive.”

Links to the Past, the Word of Early Hawaiian Artisans by Wendy S. Arbeit

University of Hawaii Press, 2011

327 pages

$75