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ON THE COVER C’est si bon! Halau Mele chanter Marques Hanalei Marzan with Paris’ most famous landmark—la Tour Eiffel—in the background. Photo by Kevin German
Vol.17, no.6
December 2014 / January 2015

 

Art and Archeology 
Written By: Noel Nicholas
Photos By: Sue Hudelson

Tracy Tam Sing was nine when he saw his first petroglyph. He was hiking with his father, exploring the smooth red cinder rock along the cliff wall at Olowalu on his home island of Maui when there it was: an image of a canoe with a large claw-shaped sail, etched into the rock centuries earlier by Tam Sing’s Hawaiian ancestors. He may have been only nine, but Tam Sing remembers to this day his fascination and the pride he felt in being connected to the image.

It’s a fascination that never left him. Today, three decades on, Tam Sing is one of three principal archeologists for the State of Hawai‘i; he is responsible for mapping and maintaining historical sites on Hawai‘i Island, where thousands of petroglyphs are found. Petroglyphs, or ki‘i pohaku, are the rock carvings—of people, animals, canoes and more—created by the ancient Hawaiians.

Ten years ago Tam Sing developed a new relationship with the petroglyphs almost by accident. He’d been having trouble sleeping, and a painter friend gave him a canvas and some oils and encouraged him to get past his insomnia by painting. Tam Sing painted the first thing that came to his mind: petroglyphs. It sparked a passion that remains as vital as ever: He creates a new petroglyph painting every three weeks.

He replicates the figures as accurately as possible: All of the petroglyphs in his paintings can actually be viewed on Island boulders, lava fields and cliff walls. What makes the artwork unique is the context within which Tam Sing places the petroglyphs: He creates backgrounds filled with earthy tones and textures to evoke the feel of the rock and surrounding land. He also provides context of a different sort, thanks to his archeological training. “After I paint an image,” he says, “I write a little cultural background on its meaning and give that out with my work.” His paintings can be found in Wailuku’s Native Intelligence gallery. As for Tam Sing’s insomnia, it’s a thing of the past. He paints before bed nearly every night and sleeps like a rock.

   
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