18th C. Hawaiian Kou Wood Umeke Bowl w/ Old Repair: North Pacific, Hawaiian Islands, ca. early to mid-19th century CE. A lovely round-bottomed vessel carved from finely grained kou wood known as an “umeke,” (also “umeke la’au pakaka”) a high-status bowl used for eating poi. The vessel has a slightly rounded base, wide walls with a sloped shoulder, and a thin rim overhanging the deep basin. The exterior is meticulously polished to accentuate the beautiful colors and graining of the red-brown hued wood. A wonderful example from the Hawaiian Islands! Size: 14″ in diameter x 6.5″ H (35.6 cm x 16.5 cm)
Hawaiian royalty often valued specific calabashes – even going so far as to name them after royal individuals – and until the early 19th century they were reserved for elites in society. Prior to the 19th century, they were made with stone and coral tools, carved from kou, milo, and kamani trees most commonly. Repaired calabashes like this one demonstrate signs of immense reverence – the calabash was loved enough to be repaired, and the repairs, like this one, were done with the desire to make the repair itself beautiful.
Native to coastal regions of the Hawaiian Islands, Kou can grow up to 25 feet across and 50 feet tall. The majority of the tree population was destroyed by moths in the 1800s, making it a rare delicacy. Kou was prized by Hawaiian royalty for food vessels due to both the beauty of its wood grain and its inability to corrupt the taste of food.