From Travels to Treasures

A store offering all things Polynesia

By Blake Jones - The Garden Island - July 2007


HANALEI — For Jim and Vicki Punter, their newly opened store in Hanalei is one big memento from a 40,000-mile sailing trip halfway around the world.  Almost all the items in Havaiki Oceanic and Tribal Art in the Hanalei Center are things that the Punters collected while traveling aboard their 84-foot-long ketch, Firebird, through Polynesia, Melanesia and Indonesia.

Havaiki is just shy of two months old, but the art has ancient roots. From tables to sculptures to bowls and jewelry, everything was made by hand using traditional methods passed down over centuries.  The couple can tell you the story behind almost every piece because each represents a moment from their own journey: five life-changing years spent mostly in small villages in remote areas with people who had more to offer than the richest of men.

The rosewood bowls with nautilus shell and ebony inlays, all painstakingly shaped and placed by hand in intricate designs, came from men in the Solomon Islands, where the couple spent a solid two years.  The headdresses and massive shell necklaces were gifts and trades from villagers in Papua New Guinea.  And the tattoo-style designs on prints and shirts were created by a friend, Tihoti, an artist they met in the island of Huahine in French Polynesia.

Of course, not everything is for sale. A saltwater crocodile skull is on display but cannot be purchased; same goes for a Marquesan urn.  But therein lies the beauty and appeal of Havaiki. There is no empty exchange of money for goods. Instead, the customer receives something precious, something storied and rich in sentiment.  “She talked me into letting her buy it,” Vicki said of a customer who recently purchased a statue.

While some people leave within a minute of entering, having expected something more tourist- and wallet-friendly, others stay to explore and learn.  “We appreciate their appreciation, their examination,” Vicki said of curious visitors. “We have a desire to share our knowledge.”

In 2002, the couple left behind their yacht chartering business of 30 years in the U.S. Virgin Islands and set out for an adventure with few restrictions.  “When we took off, we had nothing in mind of where we were going,” Jim said.

The trip led them through the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Society Islands, Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Papua. They went as far west as Bali, but it was there that something changed for the couple, and they knew they wouldn’t go any further.

“We found early that we liked helping people in small villages,” Jim said.  Turning back, they spent the remainder of their trip in the places that had so impressed them: the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.  “That’s really where our feelings for our lives changed,” Vicki said, describing the people they met as open and warm, kind and happy. “We were touched by the genuine lifestyle.”

The Punters had begun collecting art from the villages as they journeyed west; on the way back, they bought as much as the vessel could hold with the idea of opening a store.  “We got more and more until it filled our boat up,” Jim said.

The couple soon realized that the most appropriate spot to conclude their travels was here on Kaua‘i, where the heritage of the places they explored had also found a home long ago.  “It made sense to end up here after having been in the countries of the predecessors of the Hawaiians,” Vicki said.

The Punters sourced most of the items in the shop from the Solomon Islands, where they visited very remote areas and established relationships with villages of 20 to 30 people.  Vicki said the spirit of the Solomon Islands is apparent in the work. The sculptures demonstrate an attention to detail, and there is an ease and fluidity to the carvings of fish, dolphins, turtles and octopi.

“Woodworkers come in here and they are amazed that someone can do this,” Jim said.

While the majority of the store is a tangible reminder of the Punters’ trip, Havaiki does carry locally made items, and the couple would like to recruit more traditional artisans.  Tahitian-born Heifara Aiamu, a Kaua‘i resident, creates jewelry for the store, which he makes from coconut fibers and black pearls of Tahiti as well as carved shell, horn, deer antler, wild boar tusk and feathers.

Bowls from Kaua‘i woodturner Dani De Rohan greet customers at the front of the store. The different woods — calabash, lychee, monkeypod and Norfolk island pine — create a rainbow of shades, from blonde to red, yellow, orange, brown and black.

And sailing friends Robbin and Warren, who still reside in Indonesia, send Havaiki the jewelry they create from pearls, ebony, sea grass, red coral, buffalo horn, polished bone and sea urchin spines.

While the majority of the store is filled with singular pieces with price tags in the thousands, the Punters intentionally sell smaller things — jewelry and such — to make the experience accessible to all customers.

But as the shelves empty, the unique items that fill the store will not be easy to replace. The couple hope to make a return visit some day and count on Robbin and Warren to serve as liaisons in obtaining more Solomon Island artworks.  “We hope when we go back we’ll be able to find more,” Vicki said. “But there is no guarantee because it’s one-of-a-kind.”

For more information, visit the store behind Federico's Fresh Mexican in the Hanalei Center or call 826-7606.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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