Birds of a Feather Nest Together

Feather Leis

I know I’ve missed the end of May with this post, but the topic of this article is too important when broaching the subject of the Hawaiian lei! The feather lei are perhaps the most historic and meaningful pieces of artistic culture that still lives in modern times. Na Lima Mili Hulu No’eau is a shop in Kapahulu, Honolulu that sells these lei, sells supplies to make them and provides instruction for anyone seriously interested in exploring this craft.

Different Feather Lei Styles

What’s in a name? A lot! Na Lima Mili Hulu No’eau means Skilled Hands Touch the Feathers. The curators of this little shop, Mary Louise Kaleonahenahe Kekuewa and daughter, Paulette Nohealani Kahalepuna have not only been using their skills to create these beauties but they have also written a book entitled Feather Lei as an Art. It is very easy to understand and gives an idea of just how much work is involved with this craft — the feathers are cleaned, cut to specifications and each feather is then hand stitched or hand tied, one at a time.

Paulette sniping feathers

Different cuts on the feathers are used to make different styles of lei. Here Paulette is working on snipping feathers either in preparation for a new project or to bag the different cuts for students or buying customers.

Wall hung with feather art and certificates

The shop brings a little bit of business and a little bit of home together for these ladies. Mother and daughter spend 12-hour days in the shop together working on orders, supplies, and projects, and teaching their craft. The walls are papered with certificates, art and photos.

Wall of photos, art and birds

The walls are also surrounded and lined with birds, feathers and family photos. Theirs is a very close-knit family! At home there are four generations of women — Aunty Mary Lou, Paulette, Paulette’s daughter and her daughter’s daughter. Aunty Mary speaks lovingly and with fond memories of her deceased husband, Uncle Paul, who was also very much involved in the feather craft.

Natural Lei

The above lei are those made with natural feathers. The bulk of the feathers used today are those from the goose, duck or chicken. The more exotic feathers are either price prohibitive or the birds are endangered… or both. Well, since the Mayor has designated the manu-o-Ku (white tern) as Honolulu’s official bird, I’m sure it is protected and from what I’ve seen I’d even call it rare.

Many color of Lei

We won’t be getting any feathers from the manu-o-ku anytime soon. Heck, I can’t even find one; I’ve tried! I wanted to find one so that I could take a picture of this pretty white bird with the black beak and black legs so that I could talk about it here. But, I haven’t found one yet! That doesn’t stop us from making a white lei with black kukui nuts and black ribbon at each end to match the color of this bird!

Aunty Mary Lou and Paulette

After I get these two ladies to help me make one, I promise to share it here with you guys!

Hats with lei huluMahalo, Aunty Mary Lou and Paulette, for perpetuating this part of our culture and for taking the time to talk to me and to share your knowledge and artistic gifts!

I strongly encourage others to inquire about classes or about the beautiful completed lei hulu (feather lei) available for purchase.

What a great place! Stop by, check it out, hang your hat and talk story for a while with these wonderful people. They have a lot to share and you’ll be glad you did!

Aunty Mary Lou’s Na Lima Mili Hulu No’eau
762 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, Hawai’i
(808) 732-0865

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pua // Jun 4, 2007 at 5:53 am

    aloha from the big island,
    love your post on making feather leis. keoki, my husband, wanted to learn at one time from an auntie how to make feather leis but life has been too busy making a living with his regular job as a massage therapist to follow up on this.
    good luck with your honolulu blog. aloha, pua

  • 2 Evelyn // Jun 4, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Hi Pua!
    Thanks for stopping by! I know what you mean about life being too busy. There’s just something noble about the feather lei. I don’t blame your husband for wanting to pursue it. Keeping the culture alive is important. Good luck to you too! My husband’s family is from Kohala.
    Much Aloha,
    Evelyn

  • 3 Becky Cook // Jun 4, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Evelyn, I just read your blog on the feather lei’s. How beautiful. I had a hat with a feather lei that I had when I lived there. I know I lent it my brother so that he could be outside and the sun wouldn’t get to his face. This was during the time of his cancer, shortly before he passed.

    But where it is now, I don’t have a clue. Just wanted to thank you for the beautiful picutres and story on the feather lei’s.

    Hope all is well. Take care. Much Aloha, Becky

  • 4 Evelyn // Jun 4, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Hi Becky!
    It’s so good to hear from you! I was just saying to Rod that we need to figure out where we’re gonna go when you come back. Thank you so much for the comment and for visiting! I’m glad you like the feather lei. I couldn’t spend the month talking about May Day being lei day and not include them!
    Hugs!
    Evie

  • 5 The Carnival of Cities Lands in Buenos Aires - Argentina’s Travel Guide // Jun 11, 2007 at 1:59 pm

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  • 6 The San Diego Beat » Carnival of Cities in Buenos Aires // Jun 11, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    […] Evelyn Hunter writes about lei hulu (feather leis) in Birds of a Feather Nest Together, from her hometown at Homespun Honolulu, […]

  • 7 hoaloha // Jun 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Aloha

    Thanks for posting this.
    I’m a member of Lei hulu group in SOCAL and really loved your pictures.
    I’ve never been to Na Lima Mili Hulu No’eau
    so it’s good to hear all about it.

    Mahalo

  • 8 Evelyn // Jun 12, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Greetings to S. California! I’m glad you liked it and even more happy that you let me know! They take their craft very seriously and I admire them for that! That’s interesting to know there is a group in California! Thank you for visiting and for leaving your comment and for sharing!

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