For countless centuries the hale, the traditional Hawaiian residence thatched v grass or leaves, to be the predominant architectural function in Hawai‘i.

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But by 1900 the hale (pronounced HA-lay) had come to be so rare the William Brigham, the director of Bishop Museum, declared that the work was close to when there would not it is in one left in the archipelago “unless in ours museum.” quickly thereafter Brigham had actually a Hawaiian grass home shipped from a remote sink on Kaua‘i to Honolulu and also reassembled in the museum’s newly opened Hawaiian Hall, wherein it stand today.


The Hawaiian thatched house, or hale, has been make a steady return to the Hawaiian landscape. Understand hale builder Francis Sinenci, seated, has gone to the head of the building boom. Below he confers with fellow builder Walter Wong within a hale wa‘a, or canoe house, at Kohanaiki beach Park in Kona.

Brigham’s prediction came true. For years the museum was the only ar one could find an yes, really Hawaiian hale. However that is no much longer the case. The early on years of the twenty-first century have actually seen the timeless Hawaiian house return come Hawai‘i’s landscape. Scores that hale built with the same ingenious notching, lashing and thatching approaches used by the old Hawaiians have sprung up roughly the Islands. While various groups and also hundreds of people have been associated in this hale structure boom, the driving pressure behind much—possibly most—of the construction is a retirement Air force maintenance chief native Hāna called Francis Palani Sinenci.

Sinenci has constructed hale in ~ Hawaiian social sites, botanical gardens, publicly schools, university campuses, personal residences, farms, hotels, Haleakalā nationwide Park and also other places throughout the Islands. Sometimes referred to as “the Johnny Appleseed that hale,” Sinenci has additionally built Hawaiian dwellings on the Mainland, and also he’s even constructed one in China. By one calculation he has actually built more than 160 hale, although he himself won’t give a number, if he’s also kept track. When pressed he says, “I nothing have enough fingers and toes, and also you don’t have sufficient fingers and also toes.”


With the assist of volunteers Sinenci has actually built, through one estimate, an ext than one hundred and sixty hale, consisting of several ~ above the Mainland and one in China. One of his earliest projects was come recreate a chief’s real estate compound at the Hāna cultural Center.

Sinenci has the an effective grip the a guy who can lash unmilled wood together tightly sufficient to stand up to a hurricane and the tousled gray hair that a 73-year-old who simply can’t avoid working. That sees hale as among the three indispensable aspects of Hawaiian culture, the others gift canoes and taro. Taro is vital food source, the traditional staff the life because that Hawaiians; canoes were vital for fishing, and also for warfare and for travel. “The hale is the third leg the the tripod,” Sinenci says. “It was the place to rest.”

In addition to its straightforward shelter function, hale have had all sorts of various other roles. Among Sinenci’s more quickly hale projects was to recreate a chief’s real estate compound in ~ the Hāna cultural Center. Called Kauhale Village, the compound is composed of a hale wa‘a (canoe house), a hale imu (cookhouse), a hale ‘aina (women’s eat house), a hale noa (sleeping residence for both sexes), a hale mua (men’s eat house—“the timeless Hawaiian guy cave,” Sinenci says) and a hale pe‘a (menstrual retreat).

Each county in Hawai‘i today has actually provisions in its building code that allow for the building of hale using traditional techniques and also materials. But this was no the instance in the 1990s. Climate hale builders had to either go v the onerous procedure of using for a special building permit or simply build without a permit and also hope the next-door neighbors didn’t complain. That started to change in 2002, when Maui county amended its building code to allow the construction of “indigenous Hawaiian architecture structures” for functions such together eating, sleeping, assemblies, sleeve sales and also storage. Sinenci served on the task pressure that assisted craft architecture standards that would certainly pass muster with structure officials and the fire room while at the very same time keeping true come their social origins. Maui’s code offered as a version for the other counties, i m sorry have adopted identical rules.

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Sinenci embraces traditional building techniques, however he’s no stickler when it concerns materials. He readily uses nonnative species such together kiawe, eucalyptus and also mangrove. His preferred thatch is a non-native selection of palm, above.

The structure codes have certain modern safety needs that hale never ever traditionally had. Rock foundations, for instance, must be reinforced with concrete, and posts should be set in concrete. Electrical wiring, plumbing, generators, screens and plastic or metal structure materials room not allowed. However, nylon cord is allowed for lashings. For fire safety, hale are compelled to have fire sprinkler systems. That was a requirement Sinenci initially opposed. However after some of his hale melted down, he adjusted his mind. “At first ns said, ‘Hey, us didn’t usage sprinklers back in the old days,’” he says. “But now there’s more people through easier accessibility to fire-making tools. You used to have to rub 2 sticks together to get the hale going increase in flames. Recently you just throw a firecracker and the whole thing burns down.”

Sinenci when taught a hale structure class at Maui neighborhood College, yet today he provides an apprenticeship mechanism to train the following generation that hale builders. And also whenever he builds a hale, he counts on volunteers by the dozen to lend a hand. It’s a ide embodied through the Hawaiian word laulima, which means cooperation or functioning together. Laulima is regularly used in conjunction v the phrase, “Many hands make light work.” Or together Sinenci likes to say, “It takes a village to advanced a child, yet it bring away a laulima to construct a hale.”

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Above, Sinenci examines a hale under building at Kaloko-Honokōhau National historical Park in Kona. Sinenci watch hale as among three indispensable facets of Hawaiian culture, together with canoes and taro.

Sinenci was born and raised in the heavily Hawaiian community of Hāna in 1942. In 1962, at period 19, he join the Navy, serving for, as he an extremely precisely recalls, “four years, 3 months, twenty days, eleven hours and also four minutes.” After gaining out the the Navy, he easily concluded that all civilians were undisciplined, and also he re-enlisted in the waiting Force, where he served for one more twenty-five years. The bought a residence just external the Air force base in Charleston, southern Carolina, and also it was there that he planned to retire. “My backyard was like Hawai‘i,” he says. “I had actually banana trees and white ginger planted all around. I had some taro planted. Ns did a lū‘au as soon as a year, on Memorial Day. It was a heritage in Charleston.”

His plan to settle into retirement and a life that golf and annual lū‘au in southern Carolina adjusted one night in 1991, ~ a friend invite him end to see a video of the Merrie monarch Festival, the annual hula competition. If watching a performance by Eddie Kamae, the Hawaiian musician, Sinenci had actually an epiphany. “I watched Eddie Kamae playing guitar and also talking Hawaiian, and it just came over me: ns going to retire and also move back to Hawai‘i,” that says. “I’m walk to it is in a Hawaiian again. Ns turned and also told my wife, and also she said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” he wasn’t. Later that year the newly produced civilian and his mam bought a little fixer-upper in Wahiawā. He got a job as a high institution track coach, and also he immersed self in Hawaiian research studies classes in ~ the college of Hawai‘i and in taro farming. “My re-Hawaiianization,” that calls it.


Sinenci’s usage of nylon cord for lashing is one more concession to modernity. Yet his building process uses among the most timeless Hawaiian ideas around, laulima, which means cooperation or working together.

It to be a Hawaiian studies instructor that pointed Sinenci towards Hawaiian houses. As Sinenci recalls, “She request if ns would develop a hale. I go, ‘What’s a hale?’ ‘A Hawaiian thatched house!’ she said. Ns go, ‘You typical a grass shack?’ ‘No, it’s called a hale,’ she said—when i was cultivation up it was dubbed a grass shack—so, i go, ‘No, i don’t know how to build a hale.’ She said, ‘Let me take it you down to Waimea falls. You’re walking to satisfy Uncle Rudy, and he’s walk to show you how to carry out it.’”

Uncle Rudy to be Rudy Mitchell, the chronicler at Waimea drops Park, who drew a lay out for Sinenci the the notches used to certain a hale’s posts and also beams without nails. The illustration triggered a long-buried storage of a course presentation ~ above grass shacks the Sinenci did when he was a student at Hāna Elementary. Looking in ~ Mitchell’s drawings, he declared, “I know how to do that! ns did the in 6th grade!”

That was it. Sinenci immersed himself in hale. He check out all the source material he can find. That sought out the grasp of present hale in the Islands—including the Hawaiian Grass residence at Bishop Museum—to examine the workmanship. And he began building. His first initiative was a six-by-four-foot “commoner’s hale” at Helemano elementary School.

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Sinenci relies on dozens of volunteer to assist construct his hale and uses one apprentice system to train the following generation of hale builder. “It bring away a town to advanced a child,” Sinenci says, “but the takes a laulima to develop a hale.”

When the Hāna social Center tapped that to develop the group of hale there, one of the plank members asked him how he learned hale construction techniques. “I started in sixth grade,” the said.

Sinenci has actually no compunction about the concessions to the contemporary world he provides to construct his hale. He liberally provides nonnative species, such together kiawe, eucalyptus, strawberry guava and mangrove as building materials. The does this come take push off native varieties and to put invasives to good use. “We want to decimate the decimators,” the says. In enhancement to the concrete, nylon cordage and fire sprinklers that are part of the building codes, Sinenci also embraces the chainsaw and the leaf blower. The leaf blower he uses “to punch the sawdust off me.” The chainsaw he supplies “because I desire to finish this century.”

Sinenci feeling that every little thing he has actually done in his life has led him to what he is doing appropriate now. “It every leads approximately Hawaiian houses,” he says. “It all leads up to sticks and stones.” HH