Tradition, Innovation, and Hawai’ian Cultural Identity in Lau Hala Papale

Marsha MacDowell
Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing

Discovery Questions

How is the weaving and wearing of lau hala papale (hats) connected to Hawai’ian history, identity, natural resources, and culture?

What research, observation, and analysis tools are needed to study this art?

How can an exploration of this art build student awareness of other cultures and place-based art forms?

Lesson Plan

(Click HERE to download printable pdf of Lesson Plan, Teacher Resources, About the Images, and Images)


  • Images
  • “About the Images” Information Sheet for the teacher
  • “Background of Lau Hala Weaving” Information Sheet for the teacher


  • Study the images and download to project for students.
  • Read “About the Images” and “Background of Lau Hala Weaving.”
  • Review the resources and activities and adapt for your class.
Part 1
  1. Share the images with your class. Summarize the Pele story found in Figure 1.
  2. Ask students to make observations (What do you see?) and share them with the rest of the class.
  3. Ask students to analyze.
    • What might these observations tell us about the people in the picture?
    • What might these observations tell us about the places these pictures were taken?
    • What might the clothing help us learn about the cultural identity of the individuals in the photos?
    • What might the clothing and hats tell us about the importance of fibers in the lives of those who wear them?
    • What might these images tell us about the techniques and processes used to create hats?
    • What might these images and stories tell us about how different cultures use different ways of learning and teaching?
    • What might these images and stories tell us about the relationship of natural resources to art forms?
      • As students analyze the images as a class, teacher should share information about the image to affirm, encourage, and supportively redirect student analyses.

Part 2
5. Assign students to find and bring to class some clothing item that is handmade.

6. In a class discussion ask students to share just the physical attributes of their examples. What can they tell about the object just from looking at it?

7. Next have the class suggest questions that need to be investigated to really know how the object was made, who made it, where the materials came from, when and where it was made, and the meaning the object has for the owner. What research resources and techniques might they use to answer those questions?

8. After students research their clothing items through the Internet and library, they can expand their knowledge by interviewing people about their items or similar items. They may present their findings in a classroom museum exhibit or multimedia presentation.