Polynesian Wood Carving, Anyone?

The Maui International Festival of Canoes features master carvers, with classes for all ages.

Lahaina, just south of Ka’anapali on the island of Maui, is hopping year-round with the greatest concentration of shops, restaurants and activities on the whole island. In May, master carvers—both local and from throughout Polynesia—descend upon Lahaina for a two-week homage to the tradition of wood carving, held in Kamehameha Iki Park and Banyan Tree Park, both on Front Street, the main drag.

The focus is on canoes, historically essential to the daily life of traditional Hawaiians. But as the festival has gained in popularity over the years, it’s come to include other culturally resonant forms of carving, such as poi pounding boards, surfboards, drums and tiki statues.

Carving Lessons and Face Painting

There are parallel activities going on throughout the two-week festival. Among the most fun for kids is carving lessons, in which a master carver demonstrates the basic craft, then allows kids to practice making small tiki statues (with supervision). It’s best for ages over 10, but all are allowed to participate with parents present. Kids under 7 or so should probably stick to the face-painting booths that run along the side of the park.

Canoe Building From Start to Finish

Just as interesting as the carving demonstrations are the displays of canoes and other handcrafts from previous years. These allow kids to see the process from start to finish. Canoes from the traditions of New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands were built from scratch during the May 2008 festival by teams from the various regions. The teams included both masters and student assistants from local high schools. The result of their efforts is astonishing given that they create full-size, fully functional canoes from simple tree logs.

You can learn about other kinds of traditional Hawaiian crafts as well. This year’s festival featured Master Builder Francis Sinenci (from Hana, on the North Shore),
who demonstrated the ancient art of house thatching.

Music, Crafts and Commencement

There are several stages, and live music fills the town every day. There also are many crafts for sale, including wood carvings of all sizes, jewelry and T-shirts.

The closing ceremony is particularly moving. The newly carved canoes and sculptures are displayed, followed by a symbolic cutting of the umbilical cord between master and students. There is a process to the ocean, a short walk away, as carvers carry their canoes to the water and paddle out.

For more information about the International Festival of Canoes, visit www.mauifestivalofcanoes.com.

Destinations: Hawaii, Maui

Themes: Family Travel