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John Nippolt
Mana for the carving - Part two
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         To get to the place where Seguin lives, I have to drive south along the eastside of the island. I keep heading south until I reach a famous stretch of road named Kalanianaole Highway, that eventually leads you around the southern tip of Oahu and returns you to town. I wasn't going that far today; I would drive only up to where the highway turns into a twenty-five mile per hour two lane road. Once you make it around the hefty foot of Mt. Olomana, the speed limit slows and there, posted on a hillside sign, E' Komo Mai, Waimanalo: "Come on in to Waimanalo", welcome to one of the more infamous and notorious Hawaiian homestead lands. One mile past the sign, I make a left turn into a non-descript one-lane paved road (like hundreds of others throughout the islands) Both sides are dressed in tall bright green cane grass peppered with stands of hau bush that block the view of the surrounding area to passing motorists. The pavement begins to narrow and large potholes must be negotiated as the lane meanders towards the ocean. It is one half mile from the main highway to my next turn off on the right shoulder and down another non-descript dirt road that becomes the driveway of a small enclave of houses. You might not imagine places like this exist in this area unless you traveled down that road. Whenever Seguin comes to the Islands from Montreal, Miko always provides him a place to hang his hat.
I eased my way down the dirt driveway toward the compound Miko has established for himself, his three sons, and their families. You had better drive slow because there is always a knot of tiny children tearing through the yards running from house to house, hiding in the myriad of places this property provides for them and known only to them.
        I backed my car into a spot next to a large chipper, across from Fatu's house. I get out of the car easily so as to pose no threat to the three medium sized dogs that run up to see who I am. They bark a hello, come to sniff me and allow me to give them each a gentle rub, and then they go back to their shady spot and lay down.
       "I'm naked," a three year-old sprite declares as she runs past me. She is always naked. I try to tell her to put shoes on whenever she slows down enough to give me the chance to call after her.
Seguin is sitting at a bench inside the "family lodge", a gathering space that provides an open area with a large picnic style table, with overhead shade provided by a traditional Polynesian mansard style roof. There is a stylized sunburst under the eave in the center of the entranceway with a carved sign that advertises: "Tahitian Instruments".
        A more thorough look about the place reveals a number of small workshops in between the houses that Fatu and his brothers, Tiva and Justin work out of. Fatu designs and creates elegant Tahitian jewelry that features carved shells embellished with Tahitian pearls, and all three brothers fabricate a variety of Tahitian drums. Tiva is a chainsaw genius who digs out the wood to create Tahitian slot drums made of milo wood, known as tu'ete. Fatu is allergic to the sawdust from the milo wood so he doesn't carve the tu'ete. The main workshop for crafting the slot drums is down a small hill behind the chief's house.
         Seguin stood and gave me a brotherly hug and told me my timing was perfect. Miko had just returned from Tahiti and was in good spirits. Seguin called out to Miko, who was already walking out of his house at a brisk pace, "The carver I was talking to you about is here." Miko stopped in front of me long enough to look at the design I would have to transform into a woodcarving, and commanded, "Follow me." He knew what I came for.
          Once you meet this man you can't forget him, and not just because he is tattooed from head to foot. He is a real Tahitian chief, a combination of energy and grace, a man who is used to becoming the center of attention when he enters the room.
          Demands of living in contemporary society meant that he had to have a job
to provide for his family. He created a thriving tree-trimming business while teaching his sons how the work is done. He has returned to live in Tahiti, and now his three sons keep the business going strong.
We walked down a small incline, passing many different stacks of lumber.
He pointed at one pile, "That's mahogany and that one over there is ironwood." He began to speak in a great rush of words, directing my attention to the varieties of wood he had. "Here is monkey pod, this one over here is koa, You like koa?" I didn't have time to reply as Miko picked up the pace. "Grab that one." Another command; I did as I was told.
          The piece was about thirty inches long, sixteen inches tall, close to six inches deep and it was heavy. "Bring that to me, I will show you." He lifted the lumber easily and set it on a workbench located under a tarp. He turned on his planer and made a couple of passes over the silvered surface of the wood. A fresh orange-red hue sparkled out at me from underneath his machine. "This wood is Polynesian Mahogany. I harvested it myself."
I have worked with different types of mahogany and I had never seen this color in a mahogany before. "Wow", was all I could say.
          We were interrupted by some minor emergency and I never asked some questions about the wood, information that I normally would want to know. Some background about the wood and where it came from. Before I lugged it back to my car I asked the chief what I could offer him in trade. He flashed me his generous smile and announced, "Beer for my boys, we worked hard today and I leave for Tahiti tomorrow."
          I drove off to search for the package of beer I knew the chief would appreciate. Not a six-pack, nor a cold-pack either. I was edging toward an eighteen-pack until I saw an ultra-large, cold, thirty-pack that would quench the whole crew's thirst. I was correct about the amount of beer, the chief knew I understood how valued the wood was.
          "Where's the ice?" He caught me off-guard.
           Damn, I thought, I didn't remember to get ice. I quit drinking so long ago that I totally forgot an automatic feature of the machine, get the beer - get the ice.
          "Sorry chief, I just don't buy this stuff anymore so it didn't come to mind, but I will be happy to go get you some."
Miko smiled out at me as I started to take my leave. "That's o.k., one of the boys can do that. Hey, don't forget, I will want to see what you have done when I come back from Tahiti."
          I got home with my wood and immediately went to work on it. I had to plane a surface to transfer the drawing on to the wood, plus I wanted to see what the wood looked like! As I exposed the true color and character of the lumber, I started to question what kind of wood I was really dealing with. The chief told me this was Polynesian mahogany and it had the right weight. I suspected it would be a deep sienna orange or red umber like you see in West Indian or Cuban mahogany, although I had never seen a piece of Polynesian mahogany. The lumber I had was almost salmon in color, something similar to a wood I had only seen pictures of. I needed to talk to the chief, I was sure I recognized this rare and valuable piece of wood. I would have to wait a month before he returned. I had some questions. Seguin was preparing to go back home to Quebec when Miko returned from Tahiti just two days before Seguin left. He came back to Oahu to bid farewell to his great friend. He called to invite me to a send-off party for Seguin and he added, "Oh, by the way, would you bring your carving to show me?"
          The men were all sitting at the table when I drove up. I got out of my Blazer and I approached them while holding the carving up in front of me for all to see. All of those men at the table are pros, familiar with the indigenous woods, who build houses, and preserve their cultural heritage by building canoes and crafting musical instruments. The chief loved my first dig or the initial blocking of the forms and shapes that serve as a base the carving develops out from. I thanked them for their praise and compliments which I did not take lightly from this particular group of critics.
          While studying the work in progress I spoke to Miko on the importance of our gathering and that our discussion about the merits of the wood, in a larger sense, how all the events that take place while the carving is being done infuses the finished piece with mana, a point on which he heartily agreed. He began to answer some of my unasked questions. He told me he gave me the wrong name for the wood, that it wasn't Polynesian mahogany. I had already figured that out, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I recognized the wood correctly as being true kamani, from photographs of kamani woodcarvings done for Hawaiian Royalty. It is a somewhat rare and expensive lumber and an extremely hard wood; a painstaking delight to carve.
          I found out that the wood was harvested here on Oahu at the Foster Garden Arboretum, and that the rest of the lumber my piece came from was used to make a two-man poi pounder for a family on Molokai who have made poi for generations.
          Now I know about the wood, where it came from, who harvested it and what it was used for. Like most artists, I like to know as much as I can about the medium I use to create a "special" work. What is most interesting about this year's effort is the interest that is being generated on the internet. A buddy of mine has built a facebook page that displays photographs he has been shooting of the carving as it progresses. The overall response from the general public has been positive and flattering, and the hoopla has reached the eyes of the sponsors. Crazier yet, after 20 plus years of creating these surf carvings for the greatest surfers on the planet, this is the first time the sponsors are actually thinking of doing a story about this old woodcarver. Hey, mana for the carving!