ritual cord wear art
Professor Taupōuri Tangarō stands with examples of the regalia he created

The ritual cord wear art exhibit created by Hawaiʻi Community College Professor Taupōuri Tangarō and musician Kealiʻi Reichel was, in a sense, 34 years in the making.

In 1980, as a 17-year-old high school student, Tangarō was volunteering at the Lyman Museum in Hilo. There, he read archival information about corded pāʻū, which are ritual corded skirts found on kiʻi, or carved images.

“My 17-year-old mind was intrigued by something I’d never seen—the photo with the kiʻi with the pāʻū. Now that I’m 51, I’ve finally arrived at a point in my life where I was able not just to recreate that but to innovate that.”

The results of Tangarō’s innovations are on display at Hawaiʻi CC. Corded skirts, kōkōpuʻupuʻu (traditional knotted carrying nets), large photos, corded sashes and other unique types of regalia decorate the exhibition space in Piʻopiʻo Hale.

Introducing old practices in a new light

knotted carrying nets
UH Hilo scholar in residence Kealiʻi Reichel created kōkōpuʻupuʻu

Reichel, who is a scholar in residence at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, collaborated on the exhibit and made the kōkōpuʻupuʻu. An expert in traditional knotting, Reichel taught Tangarō the ancient technique. As a hula practitioner, Tangarō naturally took some of those knotting techniques and used them for wearable articles.

Though based in tradition, the regalia resemble couture fashion.

“It’s traditional in many points but really innovative in the sense that this is not exactly what it looked like in the old days,” says Tangarō. “We’ve taken something very old and reordered it.”

The blend of tradition and innovation is at the heart of a UH initiative called Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao, which seeks to make the university a global example of a modern indigenous-serving institution.

“Like kōkōpuʻupuʻu, we come from well-defined cultural practices, but with innovation we can take those cultural practices and introduce them in a new light,” says Tangarō.

To view the exhibit, contact Tangarō by email

Read the Hawaiʻi CC news release for more.

—By Thatcher Moats