Here is an interview conducted by Jacob Hauʻoli Elarco with Mr. John Yu at Native Books/Nā Mea Hawaiʻi on May 29, 2015. John Yu is from Hauʻula and is a practitioner of the art of net making. He will be holding classes on net sewing beginning June 20. Classes are free and will be held at Native Books/Nā Mea Hawaiʻi. For more infromation, please contact Hauʻoli Elarco at firstname.lastname@example.org
Uncle John and Hau’oli throw nets in the bustle of Ward Warehouse.
Hau’oli: Could we start by telling me your full name, Uncle?
Uncle John: John S. Yu
Hauʻoli: You were telling me before that you first learned how to make ʻūpena (nets) when you were 8 years old, who did you learn from?
John: Princess Kawananakoa’s yard man. He taught me because I’d go with my dad, and we were taking care of the Kawananakoa’s estate in Punaluʻu. He was doing some net sewing, and I was interested and I asked him. Then he said, “before you learn to sew, you gotta to learn to make the hiʻa”. So, I started craving the hiʻa and he started showing me how to sew the net. But, his knot was a square not. And square knot, if you donʻt pull it right, it will slip. So, I made it to a bowline knot. So, I find it’s easier. Those days, we only used nylon and cotton. There wasn’t know monofilament.
Hauʻoli: Can you tell me about the hiʻa? What is a hiʻa?
John: That’s the shuttle. The needle to sew the net.
Hauʻoli: So generally, the hiʻa and spacers are made out of bamboo?
John: Well, if the bamboo is big, you can use it but generally I just find a flat piece of wood and shave it down, and use it to the size of the project.
Hauʻoli: What else do you need to make an ʻūpena?
John: The first thing is to know what you want to do, what kind of net, and the size. In our days, we didnʻt do to much crab net. We did the lay net. So you had to sew a long line of net, and that takes time.
Hauʻoli: How long are the lines?
John: You’d usually make it about 125 feet. That’s a lot of threat to use.
Hauʻoli: What kind of nets do you know how to make?
John: Usually I make any kind of net. From fishing kind to sports, like basketball nets. Also, the hanging glass ball net, ornamental kind. During Christmas time, we do a lot of the net for the plastic ornaments.
Hauʻoli: So for the throw nets, how long do they usually take you to make?
John: Two months if I was being rushed, but at my leisure time, generally, about three to four months for a net that is nine to ten feet. The longer the net, the wider. You’d be sewing about 450 eyes in about 1 hour.
Hauʻoli: What is your favourite fish to catch with your throw net?
John: Usually, before it was the mullet, moi, manini, ʻāholehole, weke, but nowadays, the fish is very scarce.
Hauʻoli: What kind of crabs do you catch with the crab net?
John: Samoan crab, Hawaiian crab, and deep-water kona crab. You have to make the lines float in the deep water for that. It’s really tedious work.
Hauʻoli: Can you tell me about the oldest net that you have here with us today?
John: That throw net was made when I was in the army in 1945. I was on duty all the time, and someone stole my throw net earlier. I wanted a throw net, so I made that while I was on doing many, many years ago.
Hauʻoli: I know that there are some people have broken throw nets. Are you able to help them with that?
John: Yes, patching is really easy. I can teach them to patch and they wonʻt believe how easy it is. It is just really tedious work and a lot of people get frustrated. I can also shorten the nets, make them longer, or lighter. This 7 year old boy really wanted a net, so I cut down my 10 foot net, and made it 7 feet. A 7 year old boy can’t use a 10 foot net. A lot of them, I can modify their net.
Hauʻoli: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
John: Well, I’d like to see people continue the story of sewing nets, and making hiʻa because it’s kind of a lost art. I interviewed a class and I asked the students if they knew anyone who could sew nets, and out of the whole class, none of them! So I said “oh gee”, so I want to continue and teach the kids and whoever wants to learn.
Hauʻoli: Wow, yes! We are really grateful for you and we are excited to start this class.
John: I am glad that I am still capable to drive at my age, because I want to be able to still teach and keep this tradition going.
Uncle John Yu’s class begins:
June 20, 2015 | 2:00PM – 4:00 PM
Native Books/Nā Mea Hawaiʻi