Mele Kahalepuna Chun

Na lima mili hulu no‘eau translates as “skilled hands touch the feathers,” but as their gorgeous lei and hatbands attest, Kahalepuna’s  students do much more. Many of them blossom into noted feather workers whose stunning creations can sell for over $1,500.
 For Kahalepuna, feather work is a family legacy. Her late parents, Paul and Mary Lou Kekuewa, were considered the foremost proponents of the art. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai‘i named Mary Lou a  Living Treasure in 2003; two years later, Paulette and Mary Lou received the O‘o Award from the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. The Historic Hawai‘i Foundation bestowed all three Kekuewas with Preservation Awards for their efforts in perpetuating the Hawaiian feather arts—Kahalepuna in 1999 and her parents in 2000. (Paul Kekuewa, a retired tugboat captain, was adept at making kahili and capes.)
In 1976, Paulette and Mary Lou coauthored the book Feather Lei as an Art.
“My mother began the tradition of feather work in my family,” Kahalepuna says. “In the mid-1950s, she volunteered as wardrobe mistress for Aloha Week [now known as the Aloha Festivals]. That was how she met Leilani Fernandez. One day, Leilani told her, ‘Mary Lou, you’re fixing the pa‘u [riding skirts], kïhei [capes] and malo [loincloths], but the lei and kahili also need to be repaired.’ Mom said, ‘I don’t know how to do that,’ but Leilani said, ‘I do, and I can teach you.’