The umaumalei fish (Naso lituratus) and the ʻūlei plant (Osteomeles anthylidifolia) emerged together in the Hawaiian story of creation known as the Kumulipo. Umaumalei (a.k.a. orangespine unicornfish) is a handsome reef-dwelling surgeonfish that feeds on various kinds of brown limu (alga). Males are identified by the two streamers in their hiʻu (tail) and both sexes sport a set of curved orange spines near the hiʻu (two on either side). One chant performed by fishermen of old says "O ka Umaumalei ke lii" - The Umaumalei is the chief. This fish does have a truly regal appearance and a lovely name that roughly translates to "chest adorned with a lei." Here we see the pilina (relationship) of this fish with the ʻūlei plant, the fruits and flowers of which were used in lei. The slightly sweet fruits were a famine food and also produce a lovely purple dye for kapa. This hearty plant occurs from sea level to above 4,000 feet and is abundant in drier climates. Today we mostly see its low-lying shrub form, but at one time it grew into trees with dense and hard wood used for ʻōʻō (digging sticks), ihe (spears), iʻe kuku (kapa beaters), ʻauamo (carrying poles) and more.
He lei ko ka uka, he lei ko ke kai - The uplands have a lei, the sea has a lei.
Hawaiians made a large variety of nets for fishing and net-making itself was a true art. Nets were sewn with fine cordage made from an endemic plant called olonā (Touchardia latifolia). The size and shape of the net depended on the type of fishing it would be used for. The maka (spaces in the mesh of the net) were partially determined by the type of fish that would be caught. The ʻupena hoʻolei, or throw net, was the inspiration for this shirt. However, it is just one among many types of nets including bag nets (ex: ʻōhua, lau nui), bordered nets (ex: luelue, pōuouo), and scoop nets (ex: uluulu, kāʻeʻe). The phrases E hoʻolei aku & E hoʻolako mai speak to the hope of those who fish, that when they toss out their net (hoʻolei aku), that it will supply (hoʻolako mai) them with fish. Many kūpuna talk about how it was common practice to take only what one needed for their family and to share with those around them. They express much sadness about the dawn of the commercial fishing era and the burden it has placed upon our local marine resources. Throw net fishing for "home use" continues to be an important source of food for many Hawaiians today. Declining fish populations and a host of other ocean issues pose a threat to this important cultural practice.