Grantee:  G. Umi Kai
Native Citizenship:  Native Hawaiian
Location:  Honolulu, Hawaii
Award:  2015 Native Hawaiian Artist Fellowship
Discipline:  Traditional Arts
Web Site:

Umi Kai (Native Hawaiian) will launch a traditional arts master-apprentice program to teach next generations to create Native Hawaiian cultural objects and weaponry.

Umi Kai is a master of Native Hawaiian arts, who creates objects used daily by his community in fishing, farming, making kapa, pounding poi, practicing hula and martial arts. Known especially for the weapons he creates, the artist works in bone, wood, shark’s teeth and natural cordage employing pre-colonial techniques and tools. “My work attempts to show people the meticulous approach to invention and refinement of form that characterizes Native Hawaiian culture and distinguishes our traditional arts practices,” said Kai.

His work is featured in the collections of the Peabody-Essex Museum in Massachusetts, the Captain Cook Museum in England and Kamehameha Schools and the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Between graduating high school and completing a degree at Chaminade University, curiosity about Native Hawaiian culture led him to study under respected traditional arts masters of mele (song), hula, throw-net fishing, canoe building, weaponry and lua, Native Hawaiian martial arts. He was a student of kumu John Cummings, Kakhauanu Lake, Makahiwa Lua, Wright Bowman, Sr., Dr. Yoshi Sinoto and Olohe Richard Paglinawan.

From teaching high school seniors to carve graduation fishhook necklaces to teaching net making in community crab fishing revitalization projects, Kai shares his knowledge generously. He was invited by culture makers in Tahiti, Marquesas and Rapa Nui to teach a style of knot tying seldom practiced there. Kai is an ’Õlohe lua or martial arts master of the Pā Kui a Lua association, president of the Aha Kane nonprofit created to better the lives of Native Hawaiian men through cultural practice and a former president of Bishop Museum’s Association Council. For over 40 years, he has presented his work locally and internationally through workshops, lectures, exhibitions and artist demonstrations.
Support from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation will allow Kai to launch a master-apprentice program. “I am humbled to be in the position of my kumu, as many of them have passed, to continue their legacy and to extend our cultural knowledge. I will teach how to research the form and use of traditional implements, how to make them and how students can integrate the historical importance of those tools into a contemporary context. I intend to mentor the students for my lifetime and teach them how to share their knowledge with subsequent generations,” said Kai. “The expected outcome is to have each of the 10 individuals I mentor to be sufficiently capable of teaching 10 others.”

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