Traditional and Modern Hawaiian Crafts: Where to Learn and Buy

Hawaii is a land rich in cultural heritage, known not only for its stunning natural beauty but also for its vibrant arts and crafts scene. From traditional crafts that have been passed down through generations to modern interpretations that reflect contemporary Hawaiian culture, there is a wide array of crafts to explore and appreciate. In this article, we will delve into the world of traditional and modern Hawaiian crafts, exploring where you can learn these skills and where you can find authentic crafts to buy.

The Rich Cultural Heritage of Hawaiian Crafts

Hawaiian crafts are deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of the islands, carrying the stories and traditions of the Hawaiian people. These crafts are a testament to the craftsmanship and artistry of the Hawaiian ancestors and are still cherished and practiced today. From the art of lauhala weaving, which uses the leaves of the hala tree to create intricate baskets and mats, to the skillful carving of koa wood into beautiful bowls and furniture, each craft tells a unique story.

The cultural significance of these crafts extends beyond their aesthetic value. They serve as a connection to the land, the ocean, and the spiritual beliefs of the Hawaiian people. Through the process of learning and practicing these crafts, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture and contribute to the preservation of these traditions.

Learning Traditional Hawaiian Crafts: Workshops and Classes

For those who are interested in learning traditional Hawaiian crafts, there are numerous workshops and classes available throughout the islands. These educational opportunities provide hands-on experiences where participants can learn from skilled artisans and immerse themselves in the craft-making process.

One popular craft that is often taught in workshops is the art of lei making. Lei making is a significant cultural practice in Hawaii, and learning how to create these beautiful floral garlands allows individuals to connect with the history and symbolism behind them. Workshops typically cover various techniques, from stringing flowers to weaving intricate designs, and provide participants with the opportunity to create their own unique leis.

Another traditional craft that can be learned through workshops is hula dancing. Hula is not only a dance form but also a storytelling medium that conveys the legends and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Hula workshops offer a chance to learn the basic steps, hand movements, and chants that accompany this graceful art form. It is a fantastic way to immerse oneself in Hawaiian culture and gain a deeper appreciation for its rich history.

In addition to lei making and hula dancing, workshops and classes are available for other traditional crafts such as kapa (bark cloth) making, featherwork, and traditional tattooing. These educational experiences provide a unique opportunity to learn from experts and gain hands-on knowledge of the intricate techniques involved in each craft.

Master Craftsmen: Preserving Traditional Techniques

Preserving traditional techniques is crucial in ensuring the longevity of Hawaiian crafts and maintaining their authenticity. Throughout the islands, there are master craftsmen who dedicate their lives to honing their skills and passing them down to future generations. These artisans play a vital role in preserving the cultural heritage of Hawaiian crafts.

These master craftsmen have spent years perfecting their techniques and have become experts in their respective fields. They possess a deep understanding of the materials used, whether it's the specific types of wood for carving or the different plants for weaving. They also possess an extensive knowledge of the cultural significance behind each craft.

Many of these master craftsmen offer apprenticeships, allowing aspiring artisans to learn directly from them and acquire the skills necessary to carry on the traditions. Apprenticeships provide an invaluable opportunity to observe and learn from the best, gaining insights into the intricacies of the craft that are not easily taught in a classroom setting. By working closely with these experts, apprentices can absorb the knowledge, techniques, and artistic sensibilities required to create authentic and culturally significant pieces.

In addition to passing down their skills through apprenticeships, master craftsmen also play a role in educating the public. They often showcase their work at cultural events, museums, and galleries, giving visitors an opportunity to witness the craftsmanship firsthand and learn about the cultural context behind each piece. This not only helps to raise awareness about Hawaiian crafts but also fosters appreciation and support for the artisans and their craft.

Modern Innovations in Hawaiian Crafts

While traditional Hawaiian crafts hold deep cultural significance, modern interpretations have also emerged, reflecting the evolving nature of Hawaiian culture and artistic expression. These modern innovations infuse traditional techniques with contemporary designs, materials, and ideas, resulting in unique and exciting creations.

One example of modern Hawaiian crafts is the fusion of traditional weaving techniques with unconventional materials. Some artisans have experimented with incorporating recycled materials, such as plastic or metal, into their woven creations. This not only adds a contemporary touch to the craft but also addresses environmental concerns and promotes sustainable practices.

Another modern innovation is the incorporation of technology into traditional crafts. For instance, some wood carvers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create intricate patterns before carving them into the wood. This combination of traditional craftsmanship with modern technology allows for greater precision and the exploration of complex designs.

Furthermore, contemporary Hawaiian crafts often explore new forms of artistic expression. Artists may create pieces that challenge traditional boundaries, incorporating abstract concepts or using unconventional shapes and colors. These artistic explorations not only push the boundaries of what is considered traditional but also help to keep the craft relevant and engaging for a modern audience.

Where to Learn Traditional Hawaiian Crafts: Educational Institutions

If you're looking for a more structured and comprehensive approach to learning traditional Hawaiian crafts, educational institutions in Hawaii offer programs and courses that delve into the intricacies of these crafts. These institutions provide a valuable platform for individuals to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Hawaiian crafts and receive formal training from knowledgeable instructors.

One prominent institution that offers programs in traditional Hawaiian crafts is the University of Hawaiʻi. The university's various campuses provide a range of courses and degrees related to Hawaiian studies, including classes on specific crafts like hula, lei making, and kapa making. These programs offer a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural significance of each craft and provide students with the opportunity to develop their skills under the guidance of experienced faculty members.

Hawaiian people showing leis flower necklaces

In addition to the University of Hawaiʻi, community colleges across the islands also offer courses and workshops on traditional Hawaiian crafts. These programs are often more accessible and affordable for local residents and visitors alike. From introductory classes to more advanced workshops, these institutions cater to individuals with different levels of experience and provide a supportive learning environment.

It's important to note that availability and course offerings may vary from year to year, so it's advisable to check the course catalogs or contact the respective institutions for the most up-to-date information on their offerings. Taking advantage of these educational opportunities can provide a solid foundation for anyone interested in delving deeper into the world of traditional Hawaiian crafts.

Where to Learn Modern Hawaiian Crafts: Online Resources and Courses

The advent of the internet has revolutionized the way we learn, making knowledge more accessible than ever before. This applies to the world of Hawaiian crafts as well. If you're unable to attend physical workshops or classes, or if you prefer a self-paced learning approach, there are a plethora of online resources and courses available to help you learn modern Hawaiian crafts.

Various websites and platforms offer online courses specifically tailored to teaching Hawaiian crafts. These courses provide video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, and interactive learning experiences that allow you to acquire the necessary skills at your own pace. Whether you're interested in learning contemporary hula, creating your own modern lei designs, or exploring innovative approaches to wood carving, there's likely an online course that fits your interests.

Furthermore, online communities and forums dedicated to Hawaiian crafts can serve as valuable resources for learning and sharing knowledge. These communities often consist of passionate individuals who are eager to help and provide guidance. Participating in these forums allows you to connect with fellow enthusiasts, seek advice from experienced practitioners, and share your own journey of learning and creating.

Buying Traditional Hawaiian Crafts: Authenticity and Ethical Considerations

When it comes to purchasing traditional Hawaiian crafts, ensuring authenticity is of utmost importance. Authentic crafts not only carry the cultural significance and artistry of Hawaiian heritage but also support local artisans and their communities. To make sure you're buying genuine Hawaiian crafts, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Firstly, it's essential to buy from reputable sources. Look for stores, galleries, or vendors that specialize in Hawaiian crafts and have established a reputation for selling authentic pieces. These places often work directly with artisans or source their crafts from trusted suppliers who adhere to ethical practices.

One way to ensure authenticity is to look for certification or labeling that verifies the origin and authenticity of the craft. The Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, for example, provides an official "Made in Hawaii" logo that identifies products made by local artisans. This logo guarantees that the craft has been made in Hawaii and supports local artists.

Another ethical consideration when purchasing traditional Hawaiian crafts is to be aware of the materials used. Certain crafts, such as those made from endangered or protected species of wood or shells, may be illegal to buy or sell. It's essential to educate yourself about the materials involved and only support crafts that are made using sustainable and legally sourced materials.

Supporting Local Artisans: Hawaiian Craft Markets and Festivals

One of the best ways to support local artisans and immerse yourself in the world of Hawaiian crafts is by visiting craft markets and festivals. These events provide a unique opportunity to connect directly with the artisans, learn about their craft-making processes, and purchase authentic pieces directly from the creators themselves.

Craft markets and festivals are held regularly throughout the islands, showcasing a wide range of traditional and modern Hawaiian crafts. These events often feature not only well-established artisans but also emerging artists, giving visitors a chance to discover new talents and unique creations.

Attending these markets and festivals also allows you to engage with the vibrant Hawaiian arts community. You can interact with artisans, ask questions, and learn about the stories and inspirations behind their crafts. It's a chance to appreciate the dedication, skill, and creativity that goes into each piece and to support the local economy by directly purchasing from the artisans.

In addition to physical markets and festivals, many artisans also have online platforms and websites where they sell their crafts. These online marketplaces provide convenience for those who may not be able to visit in person but still want to support local artisans and bring a piece of Hawaiian culture into their homes.

Hula dancer doll on Hawaii car

Online Marketplaces for Buying Modern Hawaiian Crafts

The digital age has opened up a world of possibilities when it comes to buying modern Hawaiian crafts. Online marketplaces dedicated to showcasing and selling these crafts provide a convenient platform for both artisans and buyers to connect from all corners of the globe. These platforms offer a diverse selection of modern Hawaiian crafts that reflect the evolving artistic expressions of the islands.

One popular online marketplace for buying modern Hawaiian crafts is Etsy. With a dedicated section for Hawaiian crafts and a wide range of artisans showcasing their creations, Etsy provides a platform for individuals to discover unique and handcrafted pieces. From contemporary jewelry adorned with Hawaiian motifs to modern artwork inspired by the natural beauty of the islands, there is something for everyone's taste and style.

Another platform that supports Hawaiian artisans is the Native Hawaiian-owned company, Bishop Museum's online store. The Bishop Museum, located in Honolulu, is a renowned institution dedicated to preserving and promoting Hawaiian culture. Their online store features a carefully curated selection of crafts made by local artisans, providing buyers with the assurance of authenticity and supporting the museum's efforts in cultural preservation.

For those interested in exploring a broader range of contemporary Hawaiian crafts, the Hawaiʻi Craftsmen website is a valuable resource. Hawaiʻi Craftsmen is a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports the development of fine crafts in Hawaii. Their online gallery showcases the work of local artisans working in various mediums, including ceramics, glass, fiber, and metal. This platform not only allows you to purchase unique crafts but also provides insights into the diverse artistic practices flourishing in the Hawaiian craft community.

When purchasing crafts online, it's important to read the product descriptions carefully, paying attention to details such as materials used, dimensions, and shipping policies. Don't hesitate to reach out to the artisan if you have any questions or need further information before making a purchase.


The availability of online marketplaces has made it easier than ever to access and support modern Hawaiian crafts. Whether you're seeking a piece of wearable art, a decorative item for your home, or a meaningful gift, these platforms offer a wealth of options while supporting local artisans and their craft. Whether you're captivated by the intricate weaving of lauhala, the graceful movements of the hula dance, or the contemporary designs of modern Hawaiian crafts, there is a world of creativity waiting to be explored. So, immerse yourself in the artistry, embrace the beauty, and let the spirit of Hawaiian crafts inspire and enrich your life.

Mahalo nui loa for joining us on this journey through the world of traditional and modern Hawaiian crafts.

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