The Polynesian name of the moon, Mahina, is derived from Hina, the goddess mother of Maui. The Hawaiians say that Hina and her maidens pounded out the softest, finest kapa cloth on the long, thick kapa board at the foot of Kauiki. (Westervelt)
The Hawaiian background of the name Kapa has been generally retained, although many of the Polynesian groups have called their bark-cloth by other names or other forms of this name. The origin of the name is simply ka = the, and pa = beaten, or the beaten thing.
Its earliest and most important use is for clothing; malo: a strip of cloth nine inches wide and nine feet long for the man, and pa‘u for the woman: a strip a little wider and somewhat longer.
White kapa was sometimes used to cover the inside of the thatch of a hale. It was used for decoration on the walls of the more open lanai or porch. The thick ribbed kapa was used as a mat, and a tough leathery variety was used in the early days of the Mission as a handsome and suitable material for binding books.
A firm, rather coarse, white kapa was used as a covering for the anuʻu or oracle in the heiau or temple where the gods were supposed to talk down to the priest or chief.
At certain seasons of the year, as at makahiki (first day of the year) and at some religious festivals, the images of the gods were dressed in fresh white or red kapa with great ceremony, while the old kapa dress was burned, lest some sacrilegious person might use it.
Strips of kapa made excellent cord or twine, or, when twisted or braided, even rope; the latter had another use in quite a different line as slow-match, the charred end readily catching the fire from the fire-sticks and, slowly consuming, held the fire conveniently.
Smaller strips were the wicks for the stone lamps so common on the group fifty years ago, the simple cups affording a ready way of increasing the light of a lamp by adding wick after wick around the rim.
A strip of white kapa tied around a tree indicated that the fruit was kapu; the same signal on a stick placed in a path indicated “no thoroughfare.”
In fastening the stone adze (koi) to the handle (au), a fold or two of kapa was interposed between stone and wood before binding together with sennet; when kapa could not be obtained hala leaves were substituted, but kapa was preferred.
The white, unstained kapa was used to bandage wounds, and was scraped into lint for stanching blood, precisely as we should use cotton or linen cloth at the present day. (Brigham)
Akia, wauke palaholo, mamaki – these plants grow in the forests on hills, in valleys, on side hills, on ridges, and in green meadows; also on the banks of taro patches.
They can be found growing on the eight inhabited islands and had grown there plentifully; but on some of those islands they grow more abundantly, and cover a large area of land, and on some they are scarce. (Brigham)
In Hawai‘i, wauke made the softest, finest, and most durable bark cloth, for dress, bed sheets, and for ceremonial purposes. The inner bark of other trees and ferns named above, and including ulu (breadfruit) and mamane, was used for making coarser cloth for other uses – or if wauke could not be obtained. (Handy)
The method of getting wauke is the same for the various kapas which a person desires; it is only during the process of beating out the kapa that a person could make use of the pattern which she prefers.
After cutting a tree, he next trimmed off the outside bark; the wauke was left in the water until soft; after six days, eight days, ten days or perhaps twenty days, it was taken out of the water. (Fornander)
The strips were laid edge to edge, and felted together by beating with wooden beaters of different sizes, square in cross section, having carved geometric designs on their four faces to give watermarking. Many successive beatings with lighter and lighter clubs were required to make the finest cloth. (Handy)
For the process of beating the kapa these things are prepared: The block on which to do the beating; this block is made broad and flat on top and the two ends are made thus: the top one is lengthened and the under one is shortened. Water is used through the beating process to keep the wauke continually wet. (Fornander)
The first i‘e (club – tapa beater) (a coarse-figured club) is used for hard pounding. After that is the i‘ekike, the dividing club, a smaller-figured club; then comes the printing club and the finishing club. The kapa is then cut. It is next taken to soak in water.
It is then spread to dry at a place prepared for drying it, that is the drying ground; there it is spread out and pressed down with rocks placed here and there so that the pa‘u would not wrinkle. This is continued until the pa‘u is dry. And this is done until there are five kapa; they are then sewn together. That is called a set of kapa.
Relating to the mamaki. Going after this kind of a plant is like going after the wauke. The method of preparation and making is the same. The kapa, however, is greatly favored by the chiefs. (Fornander)
Decoration of Hawaiian tapa, in addition to the watermarking, consisted of dyeing, felting on strips of colored tapa by beating, and stamping with small bamboo printing blocks (‘ohe kapala). (Handy)