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The Creative and Artistic Side of Molokai

Two years ago, Molokai's first recording studio, a start-up operation called Monkeypod, took a big risk. It released a CD of songs by a fifteen-year-old boy raised in a remote "backside" valley. Today, Darrell Labrado, the "Kid from Molokai," is a household name in Hawaii.

Monkeypod's collection of various island artists, "Molokai Now!," also topped the local charts. The company's new release by Sterling Kalua is expected to explode. Sterling will no doubt have to face the choice of whether to give up his good day-job with one of the airlines.

Hawaii pays attention to Molokai.

In the 50th state, Molokai is the native heartland. It's the only island with a majority population of native Hawaiians. While tourism flourished, Molokai defied commercialization. Residents, regardless of their ancestry, feel first and foremost that they are Molokaians.

In Hawaii, people know that anything coming from Molokai will be unusual, strong, and done well.

The high quality of Molokai's creative people is evident when you look around Kamakana Gallery, a one-of-a-kind project in the island's only town, Kaunakakai. The gallery displays the work of island artists, carvers, weavers, quilters and so on - fifty-eight of them.

Wood-working is a Molokai strength. Bill Kapuni carves the implements of his ancestors -- deep-toned pahu drums from eighty-year-old coconut trunks, platters, and lidded wooden urns called ‘umeke. Jack Ewing takes full advantage of the density and color of Hawaiian hardwoods to create bowls so thin that they glow when held up to the sunlight. Rob the "Mountain Man," who keeps his rustic woodshop and home at the edge of the Kamakou preserve, likes to integrate the hard edge of the forest with his masterful work.

Some artists practice skills so rare you won't find them elsewhere. For example, Lola Spencer used a state foundation grant to learn the endangered craft of weaving lauhala, the leaves of a Polynesian coastal tree related to the yucca. Her hats are masterpieces - tight weave, lovely shapes, and a highly disciplined control of color and pattern.

Molokaians like these are true originals.

So is homeboy Rik Cooke, whose credits include National Geographic and a fascinating coffee-table book of island portraits. In 1989, he and his wife Bronwyn created a retreat center called Hui Ho‘olana, a gathering place for "creativity, healing and the arts." Set in the cool uplands of Kala‘e, the Hui offers a schedule of live-in courses on subjects such as Life Paint And Passion, Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes, and Kawaikapuokalani Hewett's Hula Intensive.

Perhaps the most colorful of Molokai's creative souls are Jonathan and Daphne Socher. They stumbled on this outpost island twenty years ago and decided to open a business that it certainly lacked - a design shop for making kites. Today the Big Wind Kite Factory still inhabits the same building and gift shop it originally established in the mini-town of Maunaloa, headquarters of Molokai Ranch and the Sheraton Molokai. The Sochers travel to Indonesia every year to add oriental design ideas to their colorful flying concepts.

For two decades the Sochers have made good on their belief that Molokai visitors eventually, inevitably discover the essence of the island - which has something to do with the wind and more to do with play.

Says Jonathan - who is as big-bearded as Saint Nicholas - "Molokai is for people who don't need anybody to tell them how to relax."

In short, keep your eye on the creative people of Molokai. The island has great power and many teachings. People who know Hawaii are watching Molokai because this island has something peculiar and genuine to offer. Its residents are independent, honest folk, proud of their island home. They create in the spirit of its wild isolation.

Article Courtesy of the Molokai Visitors Association

See also:
- The Arts on Other Islands
- All Activities on Molokai
- Attractions on Molokai

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