A Life Celebrated

Remembering a true Hawaiian Renaissance Man.

Bill Kapuni frequently graced the waves with friends and iconic surfers the Aikau brothers. This photo was taken at Sunset Beach on Oahu in 1970.

With almost 100% Hawaiian blood, artist and Master Carver, Bill Kapuni’s ancestry and art created a lifetime of beautiful memories and accomplishments. A true Renaissance Man, Bill would take up many trades and travels before finding a final resting place on Molokai.

Bill passed away last Saturday in the company of his loved ones. This loss will be felt by many, but Bill Kapuni leaves behind a legacy of a life to be celebrated.

Kapuni has been referred to as a visionary and a legend. The body of his work ranged from carving canoes, e.g. Koa, Native American, and Hawaiian; ocean animals; and Hawaiian cultural art work which included awa bowls, pig boards, spears for hunting, Hawaiian sleds, tikis, story boards, surf boards, paddles, tuetes, pahu drums for halaus and Hawaiian ceremonial drums.

As a youngster, Bill remembered ‘messing around’ with wood and a pocket knife. He hung out with his uncles who were canoe carvers like John Kapuni in Hawaii and canoe carver Sioni Fu’utu who both inspired him to work in wood during his high school years. He continued to learn about Hawaiian canoes with the Hui Nalo Canoe Club and watched Mr. Bowman, from Kamehameha School, in canoe building workshops on Oahu.

Bill learned how to draw at Farrington High School and learned how to paint from Nolli Queen. Every chance he got, he drew something he saw or felt, always relating to Hawaiian culture particularly men in canoes and fishing with nets.

At 15, “Willie” began to surf with Eddie Aikau and brothers. Surfing is “part of my art because surfing is like an art you perform with your body.” For Bill, “surfing was like a dance with Kanaloa…your body in motion with the waves.” As a surfer and life guard on the North Shore, he carved surf boards and used them as canvases for painting surfers on the waves.

During this time, he also began carving paddles and paddling with Hui Nalo Canoe Club. At 18, he helped to win the six man race from Molokai to Oahu in the Koa Canoe Division.

In 1969 Bill left his beloved Hawaii and moved to the mainland where his interest in cars, hot rods, and trucks would join his love of art. It was then, in his backyard, he began his body painting business. He competed in shows winning numerous trophies and awards for his work and was a featured artist in several street rod and off-road-vehicle magazines.

While in Washington State he worked on and carved Native American canoes, eventually mastering the Indian art techniques and designs for wood carving.

In 1982, Bill discovered his health was deteriorating, and decided to move back to Molokai to heal. His grandmother, Lani Kapuni, lived there and he longed for the quiet old Hawaiian lifestyle.

On Molokai he delved into native culture and the ocean. Going to the backside of Molokai with visitors to the island, he began to reacquaint himself with Hawaiian woods like Milo and Koa and soon began carving these woods with ocean creatures he watched while diving as a certified Dive Master.

Kapuni made his first pahu drum in 1984. Upon hearing about Bill’s drum, Molokai pahu maker Bobbie English came over to Kapuni’s house and shared with him his knowledge of the drum. Since then Bill has carved many drums for numerous special events and organizations.

He has taught classes and workshops on drum making and other Hawaiian arts. His pieces are in many collectors homes throughout the world and locally in homes such as Murdock on Lanai and Abigail K. K. Kawananakoa on Oahu, in addition to many Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts.

As the Mo`olele voyaging canoe was being towed to the east side of Molokai to sail to Maui, Bill was invited to sail on it by Captain Kiola Secara and to work in the Hui O Va’a Kailua’s Pihilani 63-foot voyaging canoe. He was one of the original five; and for many years traveled across the Molokai channel to Maui for long weekends first by ferry, then by boat, and then by his jet ski to do wood work and all of the epoxy and painting work on the voyaging canoe.

Bill then built his own five-man canoe on Molokai and started building scale models of Hawaiian voyaging canoes. He worked on the Iosepa (voyaging canoe) at the Mormon Temple in Honolulu with Sioni Fu’utu; and in Maui worked on a six-man canoe with Ray Bumatay at the International Festival of Canoes.

In 1998 he entered a Koa piece in the Wood of Hawaii Na La`au O Hawaii in Honolulu and won the honor of First Place. More recently, one of his pahu drums was gifted to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the Art of Living Foundation peace celebration in Bangalore, India. “This drum is going to represent the Hawaiians. It’s a voice we pass on in energy. The Hawaiians have always used the pahu to communicate,” Bill said. In that single event, millions heard the communication of Hawaiian mana. John Kaimikaua used a Bill Kapuni Pahu drum for Hula Piko celebrations on Molokai.

Bill Kapuni’s Hawaiian cultural roots run deep, and his spirit is strong and overflowed into his art work. Each of his pieces has an extraordinary ‘mana’ for those who are able to connect with such energy. He honored his ancestors with his work.


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