“The work we are doing through the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is critical – not just in Indian country, but for humanity in general,” says Sing. “Indigenous people have the solution to many of the problems we currently see in the world. Our ancestral knowledge can help us survive and solve these problems. We just need the keys to open those doors.”
Lloyd Kumulāʻau. Sing, Jr. (Native Hawaiian) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows, who is reaching out online to share knowledge in both ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving and traditional Hawaiian carving, helping preserve a precious cultural art form.
In 2020, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) in partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation (Luce) awarded 10 $50,000 fellowships to support Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers dedicated to creating positive community change. The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is a 12-month, self-directed enrichment program that provides fellows with the funding and connections necessary to maximize their potential and spark significant innovation and transformation in their communities.
Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow: LLOYD KUMULĀ‘AU SING, JR.
Lloyd Kumulāʻau. Sing, Jr. (Native Hawaiian) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows. Sing is a Hawaiian arts teacher at the Kaʻiwakīloumoku Hawaiian Cultural Center at the Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama Campus. He is also a cultural practitioner, who teaches ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving, a nearly non-existent cultural practice and art form that is quickly fading among his people.
For nearly 20 years, Sing and his wife Haunani have taught Hawaiian studies in both the public and private sectors. Over the years, they have led classes, workshops, and other demonstrations that focus on traditional Hawaiian food, farming, music, dance, storytelling and art.
In 1998, Sing decided to try his hand at ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving, having been inspired by Master ʻ ieʻ ie Weaver Patrick Horimoto, with the goal of re-introducing this unique cultural art form to his own native community. Sing eventually learned under Raymond Nakama, a mentor who helped him learn the intricacies of ʻ ieʻ ie basketry.
“Although Hawaiian art today is evolving and changing to reflect contemporary mores, the revitalization of ʻ ieʻ ie basketry has never been more needed,” says Sing. “We will continue to teach and encourage our students to develop their confidence with the hopes that they will join our efforts in helping bring this art back to life and become a basketry art commonly seen in Hawaiʻ i again.”
Initially, Sing planned to host 12 workshops during the fellowship period to teach a new cohort of students the important cultural art form of ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving. He had taught only three of these one-on-one, hands-on workshops when Hawaiʻ i’s governor shut down the state because of COVID-19 concerns. The pandemic forced Sing to alter his fellowship plans, and allowed him to pursue a new artistic endeavor: carving.
Community Background and Impact
Sing carries the Hawaiian name Kumulāʻau. He was born and raised on the island of Oʻahu. Sing and his wife have dedicated their lives to reclaiming and revitalizing traditional Hawaiian cultures, languages, and lifeways.
He has a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies with an emphasis on traditional Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian language, and a master’s degree in education from the University of Hawaiʻ i, Mānoa. Sing’s personal and professional goal is to restore traditional Hawaiian cultural practices among Native Hawaiian families. He accomplishes this goal through teaching and sharing his knowledge of Hawaiian basketry and other traditional art forms.
“This knowledge isn’t mine,” says Sing. “I’m just a messenger; a bridge that connects the previous generation and the next generation. I hope the fire I set will ignite somebody from the next generation and encourage them to continue this work.”
Revitalizing a Non-Existent Cultural Art Form
Initially, Sing was a self-taught ʻ ie ʻie basket weaver. He taught himself how to weave using the book Art & Crafts of Hawaii by Sir Peter Buck (Terangi Hiroa). Later he studied under two non-Hawaiian basket weavers, Patrick Horimoto and Raymond Nakama, who taught him how to weave baskets using ʻ ieʻ ie rootlets so that he could share this traditional practice with other members of his community.
“I learned from two non-Native Hawaiians because Native Hawaiians weren’t practicing this art form anymore,” Sing explains. “Non-Hawaiians taught themselves something our ancestors used to do and they brought it back. As a result, I was able to learn this tradition from one of these two master artists. It was his wish that I would bring this cultural practice back to our communities.”
Sing and his wife have organized and hosted countless classes and workshops geared toward reviving ʻ ieʻ ie basketry. During these demonstrations, the Sings have taught and shared their knowledge of Hawaiian basketry, explaining how the elemental forces of Kū (male) and Hina (female) are present and prevalent in the cultural practice of ʻ ieʻ ie weaving.
Participants learn how to make ʻ ie ʻ ie baskets traditionally from start to finish. They gather ʻ ieʻ ie and prepare the rootlets by cleaning them and weaving them into beautiful pieces such as hīna‘i (baskets), hīna‘i i‘a (fish traps), mahiole (helmet) and ki‘i akua (godly images).
“We teach both Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian students,” says Sing. “However, we don’t just take any student. We look at the heart of the student. We want to teach those who are serious and interested in becoming proficient weavers, and who want to teach and share that knowledge with future generations.”
In his fellowship application, Sing outlined a detailed 12-month plan to teach basic Hawaiian basketry skills to a new cohort of students. This plan included traveling across Hawaiʻ i to conduct one-on-one workshops and demonstrations. However, three months into the program, the pandemic struck and upended all of Sing’s carefully laid plans.
“COVID really cut my legs out from under me,” says Sing. “My fellowship project involved a lot of travel, and a lot of social gatherings and cultural exchanges. Everything started off well, but there are eight islands in Hawaiʻ i. Ultimately, quarantine and travel restrictions prevented me and my students from meeting in person and participating in exhibits.”
Initially, Sing tried to continue teaching online. However, he quickly realized that Zoom is an inadequate tool for guiding students through hands-on, culture-based activities like basket weaving. Consequently, Sing altered his plans and decided to hone carving, another important, frequently overlooked cultural practice and art form.
Learning a New Cultural Art Form
In 2018, Sing began working with a master artist to learn the traditional art of Hawaiian carving. Although Sing enjoyed carving, he never seemed to have the time or appropriate tools to fully devote himself to this new craft.
The pandemic, and new social distancing requirements, provided Sing with the perfect opportunity to master and hone this new skill. Traditional Hawaiian carving is a solitary activity. During the revised fellowship period, Sing spent many hours alone in his workshop chiseling new sculptures and pieces of art. He laughs: “I’ve never carved as much as I did in 2020!”
Although carving is a slow and time-consuming process, Sing explains that it is also “a very spiritual process.” He says, “You don’t just go out, find a log and carve it. You have to first see the image in the wood.”
Traditionally, many Native Hawaiian carvings could represent a god or deceased ancestor. During the revised fellowship period, Sing completed four sculptures, including a new piece to honor a Maori elder who helped improve relations between Hawaiʻ i and Aotearoa (New Zealand) with the historic landing of Hōkūleʻa, Hawaiʻ i’s double hulled voyaging canoe at Waitangi in 1985.
The piece entitled Mauipōkiʻi took six months to complete. When it’s safe to travel Sing will fly to Aotearoa (New Zealand) to present the piece on behalf of Ngāti Ruawāhia (Hōkūleʻa Tribe, a honorific designation as being the sixth tribe of Tai Tokerau) at Motatau Marae in honor of Sir James Clendon Tau Henare.
Although Sing’s fellowship project took an unexpected turn, he is grateful that he was able to use his fellowship year to learn and share a new craft. He says, “Everything that happened this year gave me the time and resources to elevate my carving skills. Now I can share these skills with my students. I don’t want to just keep this knowledge to myself. It’s something that I will share with my community.”
According to Sing, traditional Hawaiian carving, like ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving, is a dying cultural art form, especially among younger generations. He says, “I want more young people to take an interest in carving because if they don’t, we will lose this traditional practice as well.”
Words of Gratitude
Although the pandemic upended many of Sing’s fellowship plans, he appreciates the new skills and lessons he learned over the past year. For example, he not only improved his traditional carving skills, but he also learned how to use Zoom and social media to share his work more broadly so that he could reach a wider audience.
Although Sing could not effectively teach ʻ ieʻ ie basket weaving online, he decided to make a series of educational videos titled “The Art of Healing.” As part of this series, Sing interviews Native Hawaiian artists about their work and how art helps them heal and better serve their families and communities. All of the videos are archived on Sing’s Facebook page.
“Mahalo (Thank you) to First Nations Development Institute and the Henry Luce Foundation for supporting my work,” says Sing. “The work we are doing through the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is critical – not just in Indian country, but for humanity in general. Indigenous people have the solution to many of the problems we currently see in the world. Our ancestral knowledge can help us survive and solve these problems. We just need the keys to open those doors.”
The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship plays a pivotal role in helping open these doors for Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers who might not otherwise have access to these types of funding and networking opportunities. Sing emphasizes, “This fellowship is important because it supports Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers as we work to uplift and inspire our communities. There aren’t many fellowships that support this type of work.”