Grind the material to make dye.Strip the bark. Pound to soften. A colleague of novice kapa toolmaker and artist Dalani Tanahy tapped her to teach a kapa-centric arts and sciences course at Nana kuli Elementary School in the late 1990s. Surprised yet thankful for the opportunity to pursue her passion, the exposure brought Dalani future commissions, steadily increasing her workflow while maintaining her passion for kapa for the next 20 years. As proud owner of Kapa Hawaii, Dalani finds herself working on commissions, teaching courses, answering inquiries and preparing collections for galleries.
“Part of the whole backstory of kapa is that it all comes from the individual,” Dalani says. “I grew
and cut the tree, carved the tools, gathered the dyes, everything.” This creates not only an intimate connection between the artist and her work, but allows her to make each piece unique to fit the person or place. A prime example occurred when Dalani was asked to make a kapa piece for the Dalai Lama on his visit to the islands. She chose turmeric for its ancient Hawaiian use of spiritual cleansing, turning the scarf a brilliant yellow and decorating it with a print of mountain ranges to represent the Himalayas. Whether she is teaching, brainstorming design ideas or handcrafting a new design, Dalani is certain she chose the right path. “I’m a professional kapa maker and I pound tree bark for living,” she says happily. “This has all been a blessing.”