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Adzes of Old

This is the ko‘i. This is what the Maori shaped his world with. With this, he would cut out the kumu la‘au, the great tree, that would fall and hanau, be reborn again as a great canoe, an adventure on the sea.
Sam Ka‘ai, Ka Hana No‘eau Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Crafts)

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In the bare and silent regions where Mauna Kea rises above the trade-wind clouds, thick ledges of compact basalt, warmed through the day by their southern exposure, follow the 12,500-foot contour for several miles.

From the time of their discovery until the coming of the white man these ledges of compact basalt on Mauna Kea, shedding under the action of nightly frost an excellent grade of fine-grained basalt in a most convenient form for working, drew adz makers into this solitude. The number of generations this went on can only be guessed by the immense quantity of chipped stone.

The Adze Makers of Mauna Kea
by Kenneth P. Emory
Paradise of the Pacific
April 1938, v50 n4

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Radiocarbon analysis of material found at the Mauna Kea adze quarry indicates that, for centuries, beginning about AD 1100, our ancestors were quarrying fine-grained volcanic rock for the manufacture of stone adzes.

With its huge complex of quarries, work sites, shelters and shrines, extending over an area of approximately seven and a half square miles from the 8,600 to the 13,000 foot elevation, the Mauna Kea quarry is one of the largest, highest and most complex stone tool quarries in the world.

Few places in the Pacific have the kind of hard rock needed for tools. Besides Mauna Kea, other major adze quarries are found in the Society and Austral islands and in the Marquesas. They all were important production centers for exchange of tools between islands.

People have been making and using stone tools for over two and a half million years. Less than one-half of one per cent of mankind's existence is represented by metal tools. The adze is one of the earliest tools used by man.

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The ax [adz] of the Hawaiians was of stone. The art of making it was handed down from remote ages. Ax-makers were a greatly esteemed class in Hawaii nei. Through their craft was obtained the means of felling trees and of cutting and hewing all kinds of timber used in every sort of wood work. The koi, or stone ax, was a possession of value. It was used in hewing and hollowing canoes, shaping house timbers and in fashioning the agricultural spade, the o-o.
Hawaiian Antiquities
by David Malo

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Adzes are older than the time of Wakea. The adzes used to hew Kumu‘eli and Kaloliamaiele [Kaloloamaile]—the canoes of Wakea ma — were ko‘i meki, of iron, possibly. Their names were Haumeku and ‘Olopu, and they were adzes that belonged to Hawaii nei from remote times. Makilihoahoa‘aikalani was the large chisel, kila nui, that gouged the canoes; it was also iron.

The Works of the People of Old
Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau

[note: “kila” is the Hawaiian word for “steel”]

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But iron had reached Hawaii before the arrival of the foreigner, a jetsam iron which the chiefs declared sacred to the gods. (He hao pae, ua hai na lii i na kua kii)

Hawaiian Antiquities
by David Malo

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Hundreds of years before Captain Cook visited the islands in 1778, people were quarrying and flaking fine-grained basaltic rock on the volcano's south flank as a first step in the manufacture of ground and polished stone adzes. Adzes of stone and/or shell were ubiquitous items in toolkits all over ancient Polynesia and much of the rest of the Pacific.

July 1977
Patrick McCoy/Richard Gould

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Types of Hawaiian ko‘i

Axe, adze, adze-like, sharp, projecting, as a forehead.

ko‘i ‘awili. Socketed adze, as used for hollowing out the narrow bow and stern of a canoe hull.

ko‘i holu.
Adze used to smooth a canoe.

ko‘i ho‘oma, ko‘i ho ‘o‘oma.

ko‘i kahela.
Wood-working plane, carpenter's plane

ko‘i kahi.
Carpenter's plane; scraper, as for olona fiber. Lit., shaving adze.

ko‘i kaholo.
Planing adze. Lit., smoothing adze.

ko‘i kalai.
Adze used for carving

ko‘i kapili.
Joiner's adze. Lit., adze for putting together.

ko‘i kukulu.
Adze with straight edges, used to shave down the sides of a bowl or canoe.

ko‘i lipi.
Adze, axe, hatchet. Lit., sharp adze.

ko‘i nunu.
Same as ko‘i kalai. Lit., greedy adze. Rare.

ko‘i oma.
Small, oval adze as used for finishing a canoe.

ko‘i ‘owili.
Gouge. Lit., twisting adze. also ko‘i wili.

ko‘i pahoa.
Chisel, stone battle-axe. Lit., dagger adze.
kupa. Swivel adze (said to be named for a god of canoe-makers Kupa-ai-ke‘e, literally Kupa [who] eats defects — referring to the belief that this god’s tongue helped eat out the inside of the log to be made into a canoe).

Hawaiian Dictionary
Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert
University Press of Hawaii
Honolulu, 1971
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Some adzes were made of shells with long sharp edges (pupu makaloa). The hard substance on the right at the border of the opening [that is, the lip] of the shell was made into adzes used for grooving wood in the fitting together of the canoe. Other adzes were made of walahe‘e — this is a wood. Ka po‘e kahiko had a saying, "The seashell is the adz at the shore, and walahe‘e the adze in the uplands." ‘O ka pupu ko‘i makai, ‘o ka walahe‘e ko‘i mauka.
The Works of the People of Old
Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau

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The shell called o-le served as an ax for some purposes, also a hard wood called ala-hee. There were a few axes made from (scraps of) iron, but the amount of iron in their possession was small. It was with such tools as these that the Hawaiians hewed out their canoes and house-timber and did a great variety of wood work. The ax was by the ancients reckoned an article of great value. How pitiful!

[Nathaniel B. Emerson’s footnote] The ole is a sea-shell, the alahee a hard wood found in the upland. The adzes made of these were not equal to the stone axes, but were useful in cutting soft woods, such as the wili-wili, kukui, etc.

O ka ole ke koi o kai
The ole is the ax of the shore

O ke alahee ke koi o uka
The alahee is the ax of the inland
Hawaiian Antiquities
by David Malo


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