View Full Version : Kanalu K38's Tom Pohaku Stone Q & A

K38 Rescue
06-08-2012, 01:00 AM
Q&A with Native Hawaiian Surfer & Craftsman Tom "Pōhaku” Stone

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Surfer Tom "Pōhaku” Stone carries one of his own creations near his home in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of the artist.

For this year's celebration of Native Hawaiian art, history and culture, the museum welcomes Tom “Pōhaku” Stone, a Native Hawaiian carver from O`ahu, Hawai`i, as an artist-in-residence from Sunday, May 20, through Friday, May 25. Stone will spend the week in the museum's Potomac Atrium creating a traditional Hawaiian surfboard (papahe´enalu) and sled (papaholua) in front of visitors.

In the first of a two-part Q&A, Stone talks about traditional Hawaiian culture and what it takes to make a great surfboard.

Tell me about growing up in Hawai`i. What are some of your earliest childhood memories?

The earliest is living and growing up on the beaches of Kahana Bay, Waimanalo, Waikīkī, Kailua, where I learned the ways of the ocean, to fish and surf. I had an opportunity to surf with [Olympic swimmer and legendary surfer] Duke [Kahanamoku], Blue, Steamboat, and the other beachboys of the time. I had the chance to ride those great wood boards they had then. My dad carved the first board I owned. I had time to live with my grandfather, who told a lot of stories about leaping off of cliffs and sliding down the mountainsides on tī leaves and hōlua sleds. I also grew up in a remote area of the Big Island in a place called Hawi on my great-uncle's ranch. I lived everywhere throughout Hawai`i, learning our cultural traditions.

What are some of the most common misconceptions you come across about Hawai`i and its indigenous culture?

That we as Hawaiians are not alive anymore; that surfing is the sport of kings only; that women did not participate in traditional Native Hawaiian sports such as surfing and hōlua sledding.

What can you tell me about the history of surfing? When did it become popular?

I know for a fact that surfing is uniquely Hawaiian, and that surfing (standing on a craft made specifically for the purpose) as we know it began in Hawai'i and no other place in the world. Hawai`i is the only place in the world where the artifacts are found that connect us to this ancient sport, the Hawaiian people, or Kanaka Maoli, as we are properly referred to.

Surfing would become popular when Alexander Hume Ford, along with the annexationists (individuals who conspired to take our nation with the help of the U.S.) needed to sell a tourist destination. Surfing was the most attractive cultural activity that called out to affluent foreigners who were seeking adventure and the experience of going native, which would become world-renowned during the 1920s. Duke would become in essence the "Hawaiian poster" surfer. Duke shared his ocean knowledge with anyone who wished to learn, including myself as a young boy.

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Stone poses with a collection of boards near his home. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What stories do you remember hearing as a child? Do you now tell the same stories?

The great feats of surfing, paddling across the channels between the islands, the great leaps of faith from high cliffs, learning to fly like the birds, hōlua; I still tell the stories, but now I also include my experiences as a means of keeping our history and culture alive for generations to come.

Tell me about the “Pohaku” in your name. What does it mean? Where did it come from? Why the quotes?

Pōhaku is the Hawaiian word for "stone" or "rock," but in the deeper meaning Pōhaku means "Master of Darkness," which comes from a Hawaiian concept of someone who is given the responsibility to preserve life, and where that life originates from—the darkness itself.

For our family, we would hānai, or adopt, this name in the early 1860s, when all Native Hawaiian children born after 1860 were required to have an English surname. This was a law initiated by white American business and missionary men who had now dominated our Hawaiian government. A man named Samuel Stone arrived in Hawai`i during this time, and my family hosted him in our home. Alomalie, our great ancestor, would eventually have a son who would be named Samuel Stone—not because Samuel Stone actually fathered this boy, but because it gave my family the opportunity to abide by the laws of our Kingdom and adopt the name Stone. Our actual name is Mahihelelima, who was the last great Kohala Ali`inui of Hana, Maui as well.
When did you first learn to surf? What was it like? What made you want to

I was four years old when I can first remember riding a wave with the wind coming at me and the water splashing off of the sides. I was six years old when I paddled out to Waikīkī, caught my first wave on a giant board that belonged to [Hawaiian wrestler] Curtis Laukea. At eight, I carried one of the great wood boards to the water and surfed at Canoes, a famous spot at Waikīkī. Riding a wave has never changed for me. It is that glide across the face of the wave as it takes you on a ride that is one-on-one with you and the mana, or energy, of the ocean.

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Stone works on a traditional Hawaiian surfboard (papahe’enalu). Photo courtesy of the artist.

How did you first learn to carve boards? Can you tell me about the history behind the tradition?

My dad actually carved me a board from wood, and I was fortunate to watch him go through the entire process, so I would have to say that it was my dad who taught me the traditional art of surfboard carving. There were others like Duke, Blue, Steamboat, Rabbit who I would get to watch, and my grandfather (tūtū kahanu), who would tell me stories about the old time and places. Like all other cultural practices of my people, this was what all people know how to make since we all would surf and play in the ocean. But there were individuals who are masters at the art of surfboard-making and riding a wave on all types of boards crafted for the art of wave-riding. It would be these individuals who would make surfboards for the Ali`i Nui (chief).

What are the basic steps of carving a board? What makes a board more successful than others?

The real basic step is how you bless the wood so the spirit of the actual tree that provides the piece remains alive while it goes through its rebirth. Preparing it means that the wood might be buried in a lo`i kalo, buried in sand, or submersed in the ocean—for years depending on the size—to remove the sap and place in it other natural elements that would stabalize the wood to keep it from twisting or cracking, and perhaps to change its color. The board would then go through a slow drying process while it was worked on, which could take years using stone implements. This, in the end, is what traditionally makes one board more successful then another.

Meet Stone in person during his artist-in-residency, or join him and other Hawaiian artists at this year's annual Celebrate Hawai`i festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 26 & 27, 2012.

For the full schedule of events, visit our website (http://nmai.si.edu/calendar/?trumbaEmbed=view%3Dseries%26seriesid%3D845092).
To read Part 2 of our Q&A, click here (http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2012/05/part-2-qa-with-native-hawaiian-surfer-craftsman-tom-pōhaku-stone.html).

K38 Rescue
06-08-2012, 02:16 AM
PART 2: Q&A with Native Hawaiian Surfer & Craftsman Tom "Pōhaku” Stone

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Native Hawaiian surfer Tom "Pōhaku” Stone rides the waves near his home in Hawai`i. From May 20 through 25, Stone—an artist-in-residence at NMAI in Washington—will carve a traditional Hawaiian surfboard and sled in the museum's Potomac Atrium. Photo courtesy of the artist.

For this year's celebration of Native Hawaiian art, history, and culture, the museum welcomes Tom “Pōhaku” Stone, a Native Hawaiian carver from O`ahu, Hawai`i, as an artist-in-residence from Sunday, May 20, through Friday, May 25. Stone will spend the week in the museum's Potomac Atrium demonstrating his skills as he carves a traditional Hawaiian surfboard (papahe´enalu) and lashes together a traditional Hawaiian sled (papaholua).

In the second part of a two-part Q&A, Stone talks about what it was like growing up in Hawai`i, how he first became intersted in traditional Hawaiian sports and crafts, and what it takes to make a great longboard.

Tell me about Hawaiian sledding. I've read that you used to barrel down grassy hills as a child before you even knew about the cultural history ofhe´e holua. How did you first learn about it?

I originally was taught how to slide downhill on tī leaves, which is the first step to learning to ride the actual sled. You would take a stalk of tī leaves and sit on it to slide down a 50 to 70 percent slope on dirt or mud. It was just a cultural practice that we grew up with because it was taught to us at a young age. I believe the intention was to prepare us to commit to the downhill.

http://blog.nmai.si.edu/.a/6a01156f5f4ba1970b0163059d597b970d-500wi (http://blog.nmai.si.edu/.a/6a01156f5f4ba1970b0163059d597b970d-popup)
Stone holds a traditional hōlua sled. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Can you tell me about how the ancient sport was used to honor Hawaiian gods? How did the tradition come to an end? When was it revived?

Hōlua sledding and the slide constructed (with a few exceptions) was built off of cliff faces or steep hardened lava slopes, which is the physical representation of Pele the volcano goddess. We usually performed this sport to honor her, showing all that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves; this was also a way for a great Ali'i Nui to show that he was a chief who would sacrifice his life for the people, which also applied to the warriors. When the conversion process from our traditional worshipping to Christianity occurred following the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, the slides and accompanying heiau (areas of worship) were some of the first structures to be dismantled under missionary supervision. Based on my research, this was due to various factors: 1) worshipping female gods went against the white male Christian beliefs; 2) [missionaries] needed to break the connection to the religious system; 3) as the Natives were in cultural collapse due to our great dying from foreign disease, we were looking for a god that would kleep us alive and at the time we believed what the missionaries were preaching.

The art of hōlua was resurrected in 1994 through my efforts to revive our knowledge and connection to this ancient sport that spanned the high islands of the Pacific and to reconnect us to our religion—the of honoring our 400,000 gods for giving us life over 30,000 years.

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Stone lashes together a traditional Hōlua. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How is a basic sled built?

The papahōlua is constructed in three parts and reflects the image of a living person who is offering up a sacrifice, which is usually the riders themselves. The three parts are:

The runners (kama`a loa, or "long shoes"), which I draw freehand. The front section that I call the "hand of offerings" is meant to present the offering, and the body extends back as a person prostrating himself. A runner measures in average 12 feet in length by 2 to 4 inches in height by 1 inch in wide.

Then you have the crosspieces (`iako), similar to the outrigger canoe boom when lashing a double-hull canoe support together. The number of these pieces used to lash the runners together is dependent on their length; runners can reach up to 20 feet long.

The last is the handrails (pale), rounded and lashed together with bamboo ('ohe), which provides flexibility to the papahōlua.

The injuries I have are just what happens when you ride hōlua, but what keeps me doing it is my kūleana or responsibility to keep this cultural practice that strengthened our mind, body, and spirit alive. Practices such as this are what keeps us strong when facing the unknown, keeps us connected to who we are as ocean people, to see ourselves as living people with an intact culture rather than be assimilated.

How did you get into teaching? What is the hardest part? What’s your favorite part?

My dedication to passing on the knowledge of our kūpuna[grandparents]; bridging the gap between student and teacher, for students to understand the significance of past, present, and future; the living knowledge and history of my native world and knowing that it is alive with every breath I take.

What is your advice for young Hawaiians who want to reconnect with their culture? What are the new challenges for this younger generation in doing so?

Live for the future but embrace the old ways as your guide, and carry on the traditions that today impact the world. We are a people the world embraces and wishes to know who we are.

How long does it take to carve a surfboard? A sled? What is the oldest Hawaiian sled in existence?

It takes me when I am fully committed to one surfboard, five days from raw material to finish; for the sled it takes a total of 32 hours approximately. The oldest sled known to me is in the Bishop Museum. It belonged to Kanemuna (a great Ali'i Wahine, woman chief) from Ho`okena, Hawai`i Island.

The name of this sled is Lonoikamakahiki.

Come meet Stone in person during his artist-in-residency through Friday, May 25, or join him and other Hawaiian artists at this year's annualCelebrate Hawai`i festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 26 & 27, 2012.

For the full schedule of events, visit the museum'swebsite (http://nmai.si.edu/calendar/?trumbaEmbed=view%3Dseries%26seriesid%3D845092).
To read Part 1 of our Q&A,click here (http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2012/05/part-1-qa-with-native-hawaiian-surfer-craftsman-tom-p%C5%8Dhaku-stone.html).