Woodwork – Tongan Style

“Can anybody be given a great degree of creativity? No. They can be given the equipment to develop it-if they have it in them in the first place.” – George Shearing

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell introduces the premise that to truly master an art or practice, one needs simply to spend hours (10,000 plus to be exact) in your discipline of choice.  He argues that the amount of exposure you have to a given discipline coupled with hours of practice will eventually turn even the average individual into a ‘master’ of that discipline.

Carving Table – jennyleiwunderphotography.com

However, after spending an hour with Mani at his stand in front of Whaler’s Village on Front Street, Lahaina – I began to wonder how many times Mani has repeated the defined “10,000 hour block” mastering his craft.  The shaping looks so natural that I’m more inclined to believe that he has an amazing talent ingrained in him.  “I am a fourth-generation carver, I grew up watching my father and learning the trade from him,” Mani states simply with no trace of arrogance. “I’ve been doing this for years and sitting here all day, I’m always working on something.”

Mani and his brothers have been carving on Front Street for years and  recently acquired a store to showcase larger items a few storefronts from Whaler’s Village by Burger King.  Mani said they drive all over Maui looking for the right type of wood for their carvings taking occasional trips to Hana to get the ‘best wood.’

Mani Lavaka @ Whaler’s Village

What amazed me the most about their carvings was the intricate details and patterns etched onto each piece.  Just like how each tiki comes from a unique piece of wood, Mani carves different patterns and images into each tiki.  Mani said there are four main tiki ‘faces’ with each carrying a unique meaning and power.  However, the designs above the faces are all through inspiration – Mani said that he can picture a pattern as he looks at the wood and carves as it “comes to him” thus allowing each piece to truly be unique.  It is amazing to see how interconnected the patterns are and the detail and accuracy of the carvings show the true talent that Mani and his brothers have – small details that an average woodcrafter may miss but ones that make Mani’s carvings unique and exquisite.

Amazing carving techniques

In a world that is increasingly based on economies of scale and mass production, it’s refreshing to sit with Mani and watch how each piece comes through hours of chipping as evidenced by all the wood chips around him.  We will feature specifics on Mani and his carvings in future posts.  Please subscribe to our email list to be kept up to date on new posts and find us on Facebook!

Mahalo for reading!

7 thoughts on “Woodwork – Tongan Style

  1. Aloha & Maloelelei! What a beautiful entry about my husband’s work! Thank you for the feedback and posts. A small correction to add, we are not located at Whaler’s Village, but we are at the Front Street Wharf across from the Banyan Tree 🙂 Mahalo for the sharing with your friends. Warmest alohas, Trish Lavaka

    • We took home a piece on our last visit and will be there again next week. Mani signed our wood and we would like to pick up another. He was outside, in front of the village across from the Banyan tree. Any particular time or day?
      Do you have a website fo viewing items?

    • I love Mani and his work!! I am trying to contact him – he lived with us in California. Please let him know I am trying to get in touch with him.

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