Lei - - Table Of Contents - TEXT BY Lisa Ya­mada IM­AGE BY Jonas Maon

Once re­served for an­cient Hawai­ian roy­alty, the art of feath­er­work­ing is be­ing per­pet­u­ated at Kalaekilohana near Hawai‘i Is­land's south­ern­most point.

On a tran­quil morn­ing near the south­ern­most tip of Hawai‘i Is­land, Kilo­hana Domingo sits perched qui­etly on the sun­shine-yel­low lanai at The Inn at Kalaekilohana. His fin­gers move slowly and de­lib­er­ately, del­i­cately weav­ing brightly col­ored green and yel­low feath­ers one by one un­til a ro­pe­like neck­lace is formed. “On a good day, if I com­plete an inch an hour, that’s good,” says Domingo. “But I don’t al­ways have an hour to sit still. The big­gest com­po­nent in feather­work is pa­tience.”

Metic­u­lously gath­ered and sewn, feath­ers were fash­ioned into capes, hair or­na­ments, lei, or kahili (feath­ered stan­dards used to in­di­cate rank) by an­cient Hawai­ians. Im­ple­ments made from feath­ers were con­sid­ered sa­cred and re­served for roy­alty, who be­lieved that power, or mana, was im­bued into the plumes of the crea­tures who car­ried them high into the heav­ens. “But to­day, we use feath­ers as a way of ac­knowl­edg­ing some­one you think highly of or giv­ing them as a spe­cial gift for an ac­com­plish­ment,” says Domingo. “And peo­ple keep them for years.”

Domingo first learned the art of feather­work while at­tend­ing Kame­hameha Schools in Honolulu. At The Inn at Kalaekilohana, a charm­ing four-room inn that he and hus­band Kenny Joyce opened in 2005, he reg­u­larly holds feather-mak­ing work­shops for in­ter­ested guests. “In­stead of just com­ing here to visit, guests ac­tu­ally get to see how to make some­thing uniquely Hawai­ian,” says Domingo. A few years af­ter open­ing, Domingo and Joyce were rec­og­nized by the state for their per­pet­u­a­tion of cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties at Kalaekilohana. “But we are, in a lot of ways, cul­tur­ally pas­sive,” says Joyce. “It’s sort of cul­ture by os­mo­sis. Peo­ple will ask or not ask, but the nice thing is that folks are not afraid to ask.” “Then they’ll say, ‘What are the feather dusters do­ing there?’” says Domingo with a laugh, re­fer­ring to the kahili.

With its peace­ful still­ness, Kalaekilohana is per­haps the best place to learn feather­work, which re­quires one to be free from stress. “A lei will tell you if you’re stressed out or if you’re rush­ing,” says Domingo, who once rushed to com­plete a lei for a rancher in Kona, only to have all the feath­ers fall out once it was done. “I en­joy the med­i­ta­tive process, the ground­ing of work­ing with feath­ers. It puts me in a cer­tain space.”

Domingo’s feather­work demon­stra­tions at The Inn at Kalaekilohana, lo­cated in Na‘alehu at 942152 South Point Rd., are open to the pub­lic. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit

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