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Kako`i - adze making

Kako‘i. To make adzes; adze maker. (Malo 51)
Hawaiian Dictionary
Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert
University Press of Hawaii
Honolulu, 1971

As you shape with the ko‘i, you are being shaped; your hand is also being shaped. They're called blisters and calluses. And so when you do this, your spirit is being shaped. You're becoming aware of things that were, that can be. That's neo-lithic industry and engineering in motion. You're not going to appreciate the people and their philosophy if you don't appreciate their labors, their perseverance, their neo-lithic industry. People with no iron. Something to think about, that because a person does not have the sciences and mathematics of the 20th century, that he is not capable of solving problems.
Sam Ka‘ai
Ka Hana No‘eau Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Crafts)
video program by Na Maka o ka 'Aina

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19th century historian David Malo wrote:

The manner of making an ax was as follows:

2. The ax-makers (poe ka-koi) prospected through the mountains and other places in search of hard stones suitable for ax-making, carrying with them certain other pieces of hard stone, some of them angular and some of them round in shape, called haku ka-koi, to be used in chipping and forming the axes.

3. After splitting the rock and obtaining a long fragment, they placed it in a liquor made from vegetable juices (wai-laau) which was supposed to make it softer, and this accomplished, they chipped it above and below, giving it the rude shape of an ax.

[Nathaniel B. Emerson’s footnote] I am informed that this wai-laau was composed of the juice of the palae fern mixed with green kukui nuts. After keeping the stone in the liquor a few days it was thought to become softer and more easy to work.

4. When the shape of the thing has been blocked out, they apply it to the grind-stone, hoana, sprinkled with sand and water. The upper side and the lower side were ground down and then the edge was sharpened. The joiner's ax (koi kapili) had a handle of hau, or some other wood.

5. The next thing was to braid some string, to serve as a lashing, to fit the handle to the ax, to wrap a protecting cloth (pale) about it (in order to save the lashing from being cut by the chips), and lastly, to bind the ax firmly to the handle, which done, the ax was finished. The ax now became an object of barter with this one and that one, and thus came into the hands of the canoe-maker.
Hawaiian Antiquities
by David Malo

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Prior to shaping the pre-forms, or adze blanks, the adze maker identified and quarried the rock. Some of the resulting pits are fifteen feet deep. Extracting the rock was accomplished with the aid of levers or by simply hammering rock against rock. Chosen stones were then reduced to a near final size and tested for flaws before the secondary shaping began.

The Top Of Mauna Kea
Story and photos by Pat Duefrene
Aloha magazine
August 1, 1984 v7 n4

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Could the Hawaiians have used the expansion qualities of ice to do their work for them? Pouring water into cracks in the stone slabs would have resulted in the water freezing overnight, expanding, and splitting the rock. Pieces would then simply be broken loose and carried to the workshops.

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"The Hawaiians may have poured water into cracks in the rocks to split off chunks through freezing," said [Geologist Steven] Porter.

"There is a lake (Waiau) above the area where they could have gotten water," he said. "However, there are indications that there may have been perennial snowbanks on Mauna Kea at that time and even a small glacier or two."

Mauna Kea's adze-makers were skilled craftsmen
by Bob Krauss
Honolulu Advertiser, Aug. 6, 1971

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Altogether 266 major workshop areas were mapped.

The ancient Hawaiians extracted the best available basalt by using levers and breaking up large slabs of rock that had already been cracked by thermal expansion and contraction.

The fine-finishing areas appear to be places where partly reduced adze blanks were further reduced and shaped in more sheltered surroundings.

Finally, these early workmen faced the problem of transporting the raw material home. Workshops established at the quarry economized effort by allowing the reduction of each piece of basalt to a basic perform, as close as possible to the intended shape and size of the finished adze. Thus, the amount of stone to be carried long distances could be kept to a minimum. The quality of some preform rejects indicates that the adze craftsmen were very selective in what they took away.

July 1977
Patrick McCoy/Richard Gould

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“There are mounds of flakes, some of them nearly 20 feet high, with a diameter of 50 feet. It's staggering, bewildering, when you see it for the first time. There's nothing, I'm sure, that can compare with it."

Diggers mine Mauna Kea for knowledge
by Bruce Benson
Honolulu Advertiser
Nov. 23, 1975

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Judging by the large number of rejected adze blanks strewn over voluminous piles of flake tailings, the craftsmen had a high standard of excellence. They were, no doubt, reluctant to descend the mountainside with any that were questionable. Some pre-forms weighed as much as fifteen pounds each. When the adze makers returned to their permanent dwellings, the pre-forms were ground and polished to their final form. They then had valuable items for bartering.

The Top Of Mauna Kea
Story and photos by Pat Duefrene
August 1, 1984, v7 n4

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The process of finishing stone tools often obliterates previous steps, making reconstruction of the manufacturing process difficult if not impossible. Once they were shaped, Hawaiian adzes were ground and polished, sometimes over their entire surface, thus erasing most of the scars of flakes removed during manufacture. In order to understand how such a tool was made, it is necessary to examine not just the finished artifact but also partly finished and rejected tools, waste flakes, hammerstones and other debris.

The picture emerging from the experiments is one of a lithic technology that differed appreciably from stone toolmaking techniques widely known in both the Old and New World.

July 1977
Patrick McCoy/Richard Gould

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Technological stages in tool manufacture cannot be fully reconstructed simply from examination of the finished tools...thus the best places to look for evidence to reconstruct processes of...manufacture are quarries and workshops, where one may observe the patterning of waste flakes and cores, and examine semi-finished and rejected artefacts. When investigating lithic technology in Polynesia from this point of view, the Mauna Kea Adze Quarry Complex is of special importance

Efforts at replicating various adze forms gave valuable insight into what we are calling the "end-shock problem." A number of adze-making attempts failed because the piece broke transversely, presumably because of an inherent unobservable flaw which caused the stone to exceed its elastic limits. This phenomenon, called end-shock, repeatedly occurred in our work. End-shock fragments are common on workshops, but were recognized as such only after our own trial failures.

The question of adjustment to cold temperatures, with regard to technological proficiency in chipping stone, was also considered in the on-site experiments. Crabtree has found in his replicative experiments that cold raw material does not react well to force. However, exposure to sunlight or the warmth of a fire corrects this situation. Flake surfaces were commonly covered with ice crystals in the early morning, but we found that after several hours flake surface temperature had risen considerably, to a point that would not have effected flaking control.

Considering the relative toughness of the basalts on Mauna Kea, efforts at trimming adze preforms may have involved certain techniques of percussion flaking that are unique in the world and that reflect a high level of skill in the adze maker's art.

The Mauna Kea Adze Quarry Project: A Summary of the 1975 Field Investigations
Patrick McCoy
Bernice P. Bishop Museum

Flaking qualities of the Mauna Kea basalt and its abundance probably made this remote locality attractive for long-term exploitation. The overwhelming size of the quarry suggests that adzes from here may have been widely traded.
July 1977
Patrick McCoy/Richard Gould

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Modern day adze maker Tom Pico demonstrates the techniques of kako‘i and shows various types of ko‘i in Kako‘i

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Creature comforts
What special challenges existed for the po‘e kako‘i? What did the adze makers eat? How did they stay warm?

In order to collect significant amounts of lithic raw material the ancient Hawaiians had to deal with some unusual problems. First, of course, they had to get to the quarry. Most of the complex, which extends over an area of about seven-and-a-half square miles and is at least twenty miles from the nearest prehistoric settlement, lies at an elevation between 11,000 and 12,400 feet. Several well preserved trails of ancient origin go up the mountain and at least one passes through the quarry. Although ascent to the quarry presented no technical difficulties the climb did require considerable stamina.

Other problems were presented by the need for water, fuel and food. No perennial streams appear above 4,500 feet. Fortunately, however, Lake Waiau, at 13,020 feet — just above the quarry complex — provides fresh water within walking distance of the quarry.

Much of the necessary firewood had to be carried up some distance up the mountain, and prepared foods had to be transported all the way from its base.

In addition to the bulk of their food, the Hawaiians had to carry warm clothing, sleeping mats and containers for collecting water.

The constant danger of sudden storms required some form of shelter for both overnight and daytime use. A number of natural overhangs in the quarry served this purpose.

Seventeen rock shelters were found at the quarry. All contain…midden material indicative of intermittent, short-term habitation.

July 1977
Patrick McCoy/Richard Gould

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Items found in the rock shelters included
fire hearths
basaltic-glass flakes and cores
assortment of adzes and hammerstones
wood stopper for a bottle gourd
portions of wooden fire ploughs (a Hawaiian device for lighting fires)
fragments of tapa cloth
braided sennit cordage (possibly a sandal fragment)
twisted cordage
pieces of pandanus matting
braided netting (part of a ti-leaf rain cape)
Knotted and twisted pieces of ti leaves and braided netting appearing
  to be two separated parts of a ti-leaf cape
mamane wood and leaves
various grasses (compacted, suggesting use as a cushion)
birdbone awls

Food and other items items found in the rock shelters
opihi shells (saltwater limpets)
sea urchin spines
pieces of coral
bones of fish, bird, pig and rodents
birds (mainly petrels)
flightless Hawaiian rail
duck, goose, chicken
small forest birds
coconuts, gourds
kukui nuts (used for lighting oil)
sugar cane
The Mauna Kea Adze Quarry Project: A Summary of the 1975 Field Investigations
Patrick McCoy
Bernice P. Bishop Museum

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To keep warm at night, some oral histories say, the po‘e kako‘i used mats or tapa stuffed with either pulu (soft hair from the hapu‘u, tree fern) or pili grass. When pili grass dries, it gives off a powder that keeps insects away. Thus, in addition to providing warmth, it also kept the rock shelters clean.

Other oral history interviews relate the use of kukui nut oil, rubbed on the skin before ascending Mauna Kea, to retain body heat.

There is evidence that the adze makers may have been supported by a network of helpers who constructed base camps further down the mountain near springs at the Pohakuloa and Waikahalulu gulches. These helpers could have been family members who prepared food and other necessities and delivered them, along with fresh water, up the mountain to the workers on a daily basis. Near the springs more habitation caves and adze workshops have been found, suggesting that the adze makers brought their rough forms down to a lower and warmer elevation for further working.

There is also reason to believe that the workers planned their expeditions for the summer months when the nights were less cold and when certain birds, such as the ‘ua‘u were numerous and could be gathered for food. Read more.





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