Sig Zane: 5 things I love about the Hawaiian forest

Designer and Hawaiian cultural practitioner Sig Zane relays why he loves to spend time in Hawaiian forests.

Every couple of months, designer and Hawaiian cultural practitioner Sig Zane walks into one of the lush, vast Hawaiian forests surrounding his Hilo hometown. Morning is his favorite time to go, he says, when the air is crisp and cool, and the flowers and plants of the forest have had a full evening gathering moisture. He’ll bring an offering—a chant, perhaps—and enters with a clean mind, remaining for hours listening to, touching, studying and simply existing with the forest’s plant life. “There are forests in the Volcano area where three or four hours can go by easily,” says Zane, wistfully. “The big picture is … you’re with the gods. How can you go wrong being in heaven? Take me away!”

Zane does this, in part, to interpret forest plants—ie ie, kukui, maile, palapalai and countless others—for the signature designs that have made worldwide devotees of the shirts, dresses and accessories sold in his Hilo boutique, Sig Zane Designs, which last year celebrated its 25th anniversary. But in recent years, his reasons have been more personal. “I think I’m at my freest in the forest,” says Zane. “You leave everything outside when you walk in. You actually open up to receive everything the forest can give.” 


5 things I love about Hawaiian forests

1. Regeneration:

“When I walk in the forest, I am given this whole new infusion of energy. The Hawaiians believe that everything—a rock, a tree, a fish—has a spirit. That’s what we honor. And so, walking in the forest, I am always regenerated by that. I come out totally brand new.”

2. Inspiration:

“I’ve done liko (newly opened leaves) designs maybe two dozen times, just because every time I go to the forest I see a different aspect of it that inspires me. I think of it as divine intervention. Going to the forest is like having everything served to you on a silver plate. I’m always inspired there.”

3. Study:

“I want to know the plants intimately. And going to the forest, I get to touch them. With maile, I get to learn how the vine grows. I can illustrate it then. The texture of the māmaki leaf is kind of like sandpaper. From a photograph, you can’t really tell that. But if you go to the forest and feel it, you can instill that in the image you create.”

4. Foundation:

“I immerse myself in the poetry of the chants because within them everything is found. The foundation (for chant) is found in the forest, because so much of the poetry is about the forest that (goddesses) Pele and Hi‘iaka created. Going into the forest, I’m reminded of what happened there. When you take it down to every word, every dance, it all comes back to that forest. Because what we are really doing is mimicking that tree, that flower, that wind.”

5. Respect:

“The old trees are like our kupuna (grandparents). In normal Hawaiian society, we respect our kupuna. It is they who we learn the many levels of life from. They are steadfast. It’s like the old trees. They stand there, representative of many years. The respect, honor and humility we feel when we stand in front of our kupuna is the same thing I get from the trees. It’s good to be humbled.”


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