Known for a mesmerizing, curvy grain that marbles its golden hue, Koa Wood is a highly sought-after resource for its beauty and legacy. In the right conditions, a Koa Tree can grow over fifty feet tall, acting as a watershed for the surrounding ecosystem. Koa Trees are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and thrive in the unique combination of the volcanic soil and tropical climate they provide.
The kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiian People) admired the wood of the Acacia Koa tree for its strength and abundance and Koa wood grew to become a deeply important part of Hawaiian culture. Koa harvests were essential for construction of the canoes, tools and weapons that became key characteristics of early Hawaiian life. The first waves ever surfed were on a Koa surfboard and the Ukulele, to this day, is still preferably made of Koa Wood.
About one thousand years ago, the first Polynesian settlers inhabited Hawaii. On the island of Oahu, the land was divided up into sections called an ahupua’a. These extended from the mountains at heart of the island to the coast line. The ahupua’a were divided up amongst all the settlers but Waimea Valley on the North Shore was set aside for the Kahuna Nui (High Priests).
Waimea Valley is incredibly lush and teeming with life. The word Waimea means ‘Sacred Water’ and refers to a series of rivers that descend from a waterfall deep in the Valley and tumble through rolling hills towards the dazzling sapphire seas of the bay Below. It is said that the stunning natural beauty and abundance is testament to the spiritual presence that resides in the Valley.
Traces of early Hawaiians’ interaction with the gods can be found in the Heiau (Temples) scattered around Waimea. The fishing god Kāne Aukai rewarded two fisherman for hauling sacred stones and idols out of the ocean to build a Heiau in his honor which still stands today.
The Hawaiian People live by several guiding principles of which Malama is one. Malama refers to the values of care and protection that resonate in every aspect of Hawaiian culture. Spirituality and nature are intrinsically connected within the Hawaiian people: Koa Trees and the Natural World are treated with the same Malama as sacred Heiau and ancestral burial grounds are.
When a canoe was to be made from a Koa Tree, a Priest was sent into the forest to pray over the tree in question and wait for the ‘elepaio bird to deliver a message from the gods. If the ‘elepaio bird pecked at the tree trunk, it was determined that their project would be sabotaged by wood rot and the tree remained untouched.
In the 19th Century, Hawaii saw an infiltration of foreign influences and suffered enormous environmental impact as a result. Logging to clear space for agriculture decimated Koa Tree populations. By 1882 the Hawaiian Royal Family and Government began to address the issue of deforestation and introduce reforestation efforts. This included a law that would strictly prohibit harvesting Koa Wood without a permit.
Today, only about 10% of Koa Wood has the breathtaking kaleidoscope grain, making pieces that do have it even more desirable and - of course - expensive. This wood is very rare because it is more likely to come from a larger Koa Tree that grew freely over a period of many years in its natural habitat.
At Waimea Blue Art Gallery, Akima Kai has had the honor of restoring ethically reclaimed Koa Wood from Waimea Valley into one-of-a-kind works of art. Akima transforms each piece of wood into art that contains its own unique blueprint of generations’ worth of history beginning and ending in Waimea Valley.
There are very few circumstances in which procuring Koa Wood from sacred Hawaiian land could be possible but it makes for arguably some of the most rare and fascinating wood on the Planet.
Waimea Blue Gallery
66-250 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa HI 96712