Josephine Kaukali Fergerstrom: Weaving a legacy

Photo: Josephine Fergerstrom
Master lau hala weaver Josephine Fergerstrom (1926-2017). – Photo: Marques Marzan

In June, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs recognized lau hala weaver Josephine Fergerstrom at its first Nā Mamo Makamae o Ka Poʻe Hawaiʻi ceremony, which honored seven master practitioners and knowledge keepers. In honor of Aunty Josephine’s passing on Aug. 31, Ka Wai Ola is reprinting the tribute Marques Hanalei Marzan wrote for the ceremony.

Ulana lau hala, pandanus plaiting, has an enduring lineage in Hawaiʻi. It was brought to our shores centuries ago by Polynesian settlers and continues to be a vibrant part of the local landscape of these islands. Starting in the 1990s, a handful of master lau hala weavers, like Josephine Fergerstrom, consciously decided to share their knowledge publicly, establishing organizations with the sole purpose of perpetuating this art form. With encouragement from friends and supporters, she was able to begin two lau hala groups of her own, Ulana Lau Hala O Kona and ʻOhi Lau Hala, both based in Kona, Hawaiʻi.

Josephine Kaukali Fergerstrom was born in Kealakekua on 10 December 1926, and later raised in Kahaluʻu, Kona by her parents, Herman and Elizabeth Kaʻilikini. She grew up with hala trees in the yard and learned at a young age how to prepare the leaves for her mother’s weaving. Her mother wouldn’t let her weave, only clean lau hala. When she was 7 years old, she visited her paternal grandmother who taught her how to weave pāpale (hats). After inspecting and approving her work, her grandmother told young Josephine to tell her mother to let her help with the weaving and not just with the cleaning process. From that point on, she was able to help her mother weave to support the family.

Aunty Josephine, as she is affectionately called, was a generous supporter of local organizations, weaving pāpale and other lau hala products to support community events and to raise funds for various programs. Her selflessness has been recognized both locally and statewide, having received the 2009 Hōlualoa Foundation for Arts and Culture’s Ua Mākaukau Loa Award and having been named Living Treasure of Hawaiʻi by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Even with her many accolades, she remained a humble and sharing person, willing to teach anyone interested in learning. She was a major source of inspiration in the lau hala weaving community of Hawaiʻi, epitomizing aloha in every way.

Aunty Josephine’s students can attest to the joy she brought to weaving occasions. Her laugh, smile, and stories are unforgettable. The love and happiness that filled the room because of her presence is a quality that many of her students strive to emulate. She is looked upon as a role model by multiple generations of weavers, numerous circles of friends, family, and community members alike. Much like the number of pāpale she is estimated to have made in her lifetime, well over 27,000, Aunty Josephine leaves an amazing legacy and will be sorely missed.