Naupaka Night


Naupaka (diptych) by Wendy Roberts
Naupaka (diptych)

I’m going to be teaching my first wine and paint night at Brilhante Custom Picture Framing and Fine Art in Kailua on April 29, 2017. I wanted to share a little about the piece designed for the activity. It depicts a haunting legend from Hawaiian tradition. Thanks to Tracy Brilhante for suggesting the idea of a naupaka painting!

The story of naupaka is one of my favorite tragic love stories. It has several variations, but the one I love best goes something like this: There was a lovely ali’i girl named Naupaka who fell in love with a young commoner man, Kaui, who lived near her village. The two wished to marry, but it was kapu (forbidden) for ali’i (the ruling class) to marry commoners. They asked the kupuna (village elders) if an exception could be made. The two were sent to a distant heiau (temple) in the mountains to pray to the Gods to ask if they could marry, but sadly, the sky grew stormy, and rain started to fall, a sign from the Gods that their love was not allowed.  The beautiful ali’i girl broke a complete naupaka flower, one with ten petals, in half.  She gave one of the half-flowers to her lover. “We can no longer be together.” she said as her heart broke, “I will stay here, and you must return to live by the ocean. We must never meet again.” From then on, there were two kinds of naupaka, and each grew with only five petals to reflect the tragedy of the separated lovers. The lovers are reunited when the two halves of the naupaka flower are brought together.

These paintings are meant to be a diptych, reuniting the flower halves, and thus the lovers, once more.  When designing it, I thought of the half-necklaces some people wear to remember each other and signify their bond to one another.

There is a botanical aspect to this story which is also wonderful to know.  The inspiration for the story is the two forms of the naupaka plant which never grow in the same place.  Their incomplete appearance, each sporting five petals in a half-circle seems specifically designed for a tragic love story. There is a mountain naupaka that needs the cool rainy elevations of the mountain to thrive, and an ocean version of naupaka that is often grown for its hearty ability to thrive in sun and salt spray.  Their growing needs are highly divergent so they are rarely grown in close proximity. The beach version is pure white, the mountain version varies in the amount of purple in its petals, some are white with purple stripes, some are lavender with purple stripes.  I chose to paint the more purple mountain variety, but I expect a significant number of painters at “Naupaka Night” will want to paint the variety of mountain naupaka with white petals so the two halves will resemble each other more closely.