ANCIENT KOA CANOE REBORN ON KAUAI

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By Dennis Fujimoto

KAUAI, Hawaii (The Garden Island, July 3) - Looking more like a fine piece of furniture than the functional craft that she is, the koa canoe glistened in the Hanalei afternoon sun as she awaited her guests in a yard fronting the waters of Hanalei Bay.

"This canoe must be at least 150 years old," estimated Alan Fayé, who along with his brother Mike inherited the craft from their father.

"It must've been built in the late 1800s," Alan Fayé continued, while waiting for guests to arrive at his Hanalei beach-front property where the restored canoe was about to receive blessings before setting out in the serene waters of the bay.

"When my dad purchased it in the 1930s, it must've been at least 30 or 40 years old," Fayé said. Fayé's dad acquired the koa racing canoe from the original buyer, who secured the craft from a Kailua, Kona builder.

The canoe, carefully restored by Tommy Taylor, was now awaiting its final anointing by Puna Dawson before its owners, the Fayé brothers, and close family friends and relatives, took her out to sea.

"Forty years! After 40 years, it was pulled out of the trash," said Matt Murihead, Alan Fayé's son who, along with Kendall Struxness, was instrumental in getting the craft to where it glistened in the afternoon sun.

"It kept calling," Murihead said. "For six or seven years, it kept calling. And, just before we found it, it called the loudest."

At that point, Murihead, Struxness, and Fayé headed to Waimea, where they suspected the canoe was stored.

Murihead said his dad had narrowed the search to one of the small cottages by the old Waimea Dairy.

Murihead and Struxness focused their search in that area and, finally, found the ancient craft buried beneath tires and bundles of insulation.

"Its bow was sticking out of one of the windows," Murihead said. "That's why it called so strongly. It wouldn't have made it if we held off the search for one more year."

The three men worked to move the aging craft to Waipa, aboard a trailer.

"You should have seen how much mud came off when we first put it in the ocean," Murihead said. "We kept rubbing and rubbing, and the water was brown all over from the mud. It was like a baptism." All the while, Struxness nodded his head in agreement, as he recollected those initial moments of discovery.

That first bath in the waters off Waipa marked the start of a year-and-a-half restoration project headed by Taylor, from within a canoe hale situated on the slopes of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale.

Dawson described the working environment the canoe rested in while work to restore her beauty continued. Taylor creates pahu (Hawaiian drums), and the canoe was surrounded by various woods and pahu of different sizes.

During this time, Fayé noted that the manu was broken, the gunnels were deteriorating, and a portion of the bottom had a hole in it, triggering a search for koa to replace the original pieces that were constructed out of fir and painted yellow.

That configuration was featured in a movie made on Kaua‘i, where the canoe was utilized in a scene set in the Coco Palms Resort lagoon.

Fayé suggested they look at the Koke‘e house, a suggestion that bore fruit almost immediately, as they found trees that had been downed by storms and, in the midst of the tangle, there was enough koa to reconstruct the manu, the rear decking, and even a piece to replace a portion of the bottom that had broken through.

Additionally, there were two tree trunks long enough to form the gunnels on both sides of the canoe. These were brought back to the canoe hale and installed, Murihead pointing out the repaired portion of the bottom. Fayé said that, during this time, he contacted Dawson to make arrangements to dedicate the canoe.

When she went to visit the canoe, she put her arms around it, held it to her, and said, "I'm pretty sure my family made this."

Tracing her lineage back to the Kailua, Kona area, Dawson's grand-uncle was a canoe-maker, and the traditions he used at that time were rekindled at the touching blessing, last week on the shores of Hanalei.

Dawson relayed how her grand-uncle would take the keiki into the forest and let them play. At the point where they sat, that tree was selected to become a canoe, and felled.

"Seeing the canoe go into the water is a gift," Dawson told the audience members gathered on the lawn for the occasion.

Selecting the youngest member of the crowd, Henry Brown, Dawson proceeded to bedeck the youngster with a garland of maile, while he held the calabash containing waters from Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale.

As more people arrived, Dawson selected two other youngsters, Olivia Zimmerman and Maddy Melly, to help with the dedication process.

"Having keiki present ensures that this canoe will be here long after we are just whispers in the wind," Dawson explained, her hands working on stripping ti leaves of its midrib.

Bringing the young hands together, and joining them with the hands of Alan and Mike Fayé, Dawson completed the ka, or lei, of responsibility, that was placed at the bow of the craft, as the entourage of youngsters worked to wet the lashings and the canoe itself, similar to the process of initiating a new craft to water for the first time.

With all members of the audience placing both hands on the canoe, Dawson chanted softly, culminating with the breathing upon the hands as an offering of aloha.

"It is the hands and hearts of all of you who are here that will hold up this canoe," Dawson said. "A blessing is like family coming home, and having people come to witness this is the actual blessing."

As the youngsters continued their task of wetting down the restored craft, Dawson set aside time for strangers to meet each other, to become family, to enjoy their time together.

Under the refreshing shade cast by the overhead fronds of the coconut trees, Dawson said there was a purpose for the canoe "being put away for a time."

"It was so it could be here today." she said. "It is about intentions. It will continue to carry on the life and the love of the people who loved this land."

The dedication was not just about Hawai‘i, but of people, as elders accompanied Dawson to Hanalei, and were introduced to all the guests.

There was Kachi from San Juan Capistrano. There was Maureen Brantley, a Seminole Indian. And, there was Shireen Hunt of Iran, Kachi being sprinkled with the waters of Hanalei that dripped from the ama as the restored canoe was lifted from the water after its maiden voyage and carried over the lady crouching in the sand.

That maiden voyage was marked by the canoe sitting low in the water, its bow churning up the still waters like a child splashing the first time it is introduced to water.

With Alan Fayé steering and Murihead in the number-three seat, the canoe ventured out amidst the glistening drops of sea, being churned up by the paddles and its low-sitting bow.

While this was taking place in the waters of Hanalei, Taylor lay in bed, stricken for the past several days. "It was as if he had given everything he had to make sure this canoe would be ready," a disappointed Alan Fayé said. "But, I really wanted him here to see this. And, he said he was going to bring some of his pahu down for this."

The sun was setting low. The canoe was returned to its berth on a pair of hau chocks in the yard.

Alan Fayé said there is still more work to be done. The ama needs to be restored, as the one in use for the blessing was on loan from Hanalei canoe master Nick Beck.

As the excitement subsided, Dawson smiled. "A blessing like this brings the community together."

"This was something that was inside of me. Now, I'm glad that it was," Murihead said.

July 4, 2005

The Garden Island: http://www.kauaiworld.com/

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