HUEWAI - Hawaiian water gourds

Most primitive people used gourds for carrying and storing water, but the Hawaiians decorated theirs with detailed and elaborate designs. Early explorers commented on the methods and designs....."they stain their gourds-shells prettily [sic] with undulated lines, triangles and other figures of a black color."

Traditionally these decorated gourds were called Niihau gourds because of their patterns, but it is likely these decorated gourds appeared on most of the major islands. The water gourds were the most prized because they were in constant use and stored the valuable water for the household.

The methods used to decorate the gourds had been lost until Bruce Kaimiloa Chrisman started experimenting in the 1980's and by trial and error he recreated the dyeing method used by the old Hawaiians. It involves cutting and removing the green skin before it has dried and filling the gourd with liquid dye. The patterns cut in the skin react to the dye differently and where the skin is left on, the dye cannot evaporate out leaving dark areas. Where the skin has been cut and removed, leaves the natural gourd color.

Shown here are early Hawaiian gourds. The large gourd on the left was collected during the visit of the HMS Blonde in 1825. The patterned water gourd on the right was collected by Rev. Elias Bond who arrived in Kohala, Hawaii in 1840.


This single water gourd with the original fibre carrying cord was from the Vancouver voyage to Hawaii in 1792.


These patterned gourds are now being reproduced in Kona using the old methods and natural dyes. Some include the gourd net hawele- sometimes referred to as koko hawele. If interested please contact for prices and particulars.