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Vol. 14, no. 6
Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012


Birthing Bowls 

Story by Alan D. McNarie

Photos by Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams 


In his woodworking shop
in lower Puna, Malulani Konanui sits thumbing through an album of photographs. In some ways it looks like a catalog for an art show: It contains a hundred pictures of bowls, urns and chalices, each one exquisitely crafted from local woods such as koa and kamani. But there is one feature of this album that makes it quite unlike an art show catalog: Alongside each photo of Konanui’s creations is a photo of an infant—for Konanui makes what he calls pola hanau, or birth bowls.


He points to one image of a newborn. “This one’s mother called me from the hospital,” he marvels. “She told me, ‘I just gave birth two hours ago. Can you complete my bowl?’ Of all the bowls that I made, there were two moms who remembered to call me from the hospital. They were in recovery, and with their weak and sedated voices, they said, ‘Please complete my son’s bowl.’ Talk about aloha!”