Thursday, January 13, 2011


From the Honolulu Star Advertiser article today:

Thieves recently stole thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment that are used to teach Hawaii children the art of building koa canoes and making their own canoe paddles at Heeia State Park.
"I hope that whoever took it feels real bad," said Alana Burrows, a board member and founder of the nonprofit Puakea Foundation of Hawaii Inc., which works to preserve Pacific Island canoe culture.
The group was formed around the ongoing work of "Uncle Bobby" Puakea, the former head coach of the Lanikai Canoe Club who was given a proclamation in 2003 by the City Council for his commitment to preserving the art and traditions of Hawaiian canoe building.
A donation of a Matson shipping container to the foundation two months ago to store dozens of power tools and hand tools meant that the 70-year-old Puakea no longer had to haul equipment in his van to and from Heeia State Park five days a week.
"He was so excited to be able to leave his things there instead of taking hours loading and unloading every day," Burrows said.
But on Jan. 3, Puakea discovered the lock missing to the 20-foot container, and the door ajar.
"First I noticed the generator missing," Puakea said. "Then I saw I was missing carving tools, grinders, power saws."
Burrows believes the theft was the work of more than one person, given the size of the equipment and the number of items stolen.
Many of the tools are used by children to learn how to make paddles and carve koa canoes under Puakea's guidance, she said.
"There were generators and large electric planers, grinders, routers, extension cords, sanders, saws, worm drive saws, circular saws. ... To replace everything will cost $2,000 to $3,000 easily," she said.
Perhaps more important, Burrows said, the theft was a violation that left Puakea "with a broken heart."
"He does all of this out of love," Burrows said. "He teaches the art of koa canoe building because Hawaiians didn't paddle fiberglass canoes. He has so much knowledge to share. And he is the artistic director, founder and reason we work so hard at doing this for free."
The foundation now will have to divert funds intended for children's workshops to start rebuilding its tool inventory, starting with generators, planers and routers.
But to make sure each child gets hands-on experience, the foundation eventually will need lots of sanders, sandpaper, routers, tongue depressors for stirring, marine-grade varnish, circular saws, tape measurers, pry bars, clamps and other equipment, Burrows said.
For more information, contact Burrows at 342-5262 or
I've attended a few of Mr. Puakea's seminars on traditional canoe making. As well as being one of the few remaining folks with the knowledge of the art of traditional canoe building, he is the embodiment of old-time aloha. I remember once when a particularly self-important guy with a euro accent kept interrupting his talk asking why he didn't do things a different way...I wanted to get in the guy's face and tell him to shut up, but Uncle Bobby smiled and just said something that made the guy feel smart, and moved on.

I can only guess that the folks who ripped him off were druggies. No one who knows what he does for the community, and the importance of his stewardship of the craft, could be so heartless.

If you're on Oahu, and you have some spare tools in your shop, please consider contacting them to see if they can use a donation. I've been looking for a reason to upgrade a few items in the shop and I think this is the sign I was looking for.

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