Hooks, in bone, shell, and wood, are a fairly ordinary tourist item here on Maui. The hook is a symbol associated with our island, and with the legend of the mischievous demigod Maui who used a fishhook to pull the Hawaiian Islands up out of the sea. Walmart has cheap ones in the souvenir section, and they can be had for five bucks on a “leather” thong at the weekly Swap Meet in Kahului.
But I didn’t want a cheap, ordinary bone hook—I wanted a beautiful, hand-made, art quality one, for my photographer husband to shoot as the cover for Lei Crime #10, Bone Hook.
Jenny and Kapono`ai Molitau, who own the gallery, have become friends over the years, selling Mike’s woodwork and photography in the gallery. We all support each other’s efforts to share Hawaii and its culture with the world. I was sure Jenny would have something I could buy and use for the cover. Alas, the only hooks they had in stock, while beautifully carved by a Maori artist, were a combination of wood and bone.
That’s when Stacia Pang, who works behind the counter, told me she was a big fan of the Lei Crime Series, and wanted to help. “My late husband had a collection of bone hooks that he made himself. He used to hunt, and sometimes he found old cow bones on the side of the mountain at Kahikinui. He’d bring the bones home and carve them into hooks in his spare time.”
Kahikinui is a desolate area between Ulupalakua Ranch and the dip in the road called Kaupo on the “backside” of Haleakala volcano. It’s peopled by a few hardy souls in handmade off-the-grid houses, giant lava boulders, wiliwili trees, wild goats, axis deer and a few stringy cattle.
My imagination was captured by the idea of this sturdy Hawaiian man hiking through the scrub with his rifle, bringing home the odd bone to carve in the evenings.
“I’d be so honored if we could borrow the hooks for the shoot,” I told her. I was thrilled at this layer of rich story to add to the book’s meaning. Stacia, a petite woman with long, braided black hair and the most beautiful i`iwi tattoo I’d ever seen swooping down over her shoulder, agreed to meet me and Mike for coffee in Paia where we could take a look at the hooks.
As soon as Stacia showed us the precious family heirloom bone hooks, each one glowing with ivory patina, carefully pouched in jewelry bags nestled in a lauhala basket, Mike and I knew we were in the presence of power objects filled with mana, love, and history.
Stacia shared a little about her husband, obviously still greatly missed, and we all shed a few tears as she held the precious hooks so I could take a picture of them in her hands. In Hawaiian culture, bone hooks are not just symbolic of the demigod Maui, they represent fishermen and providers.
“And Winston was a lifelong fisherman and hunter,” Stacia said. The handmade hooks seemed too precious and important to leave with us, and Stacia joked that she was getting freaked-out texts from her daughter, whose inheritance they were.
“We’ll do our best to honor your husband,” Mike said, and we all hugged.
Winston Healani Koon Kau Pang was born October 17, 1955, on Oahu, of Hawaiian and Chinese heritage. He and Stacia were married in Honolulu and moved to Maui in 1980, where he worked as a heavy equipment operator with Hawaiian Dredging and Construction until his sudden death in August of 2009. Winston was a hard worker, loving family man, and beloved by all who knew him.
Mike set up a studio area and staged the hooks in various ways. We sent Stacia and her family copies of the photos for their private use, and returned the hooks to her after only a few days, very aware of the trust we’d been given.
And then we sent the photos off to my New York cover designer, Julie Metz.
Julie immediately chose the image that, she said, embodied the power and menace that the hooks seemed to generate. To me, the image she chose and embellished by hand is filled with an echo of the mana that can be felt when physically touching these precious and powerful totemic objects.
Thank you, Winston Healani Koon Kau Pang, for making these beautiful and haunting hooks, and thank you, Stacia, for allowing us to photograph them for the book’s cover in his memory. Your family’s heritage lives on in image and story.
Bone Hook is available for pre-order and will be released on November 11.
Here's the blurb:
Maui’s ocean is beautiful, wild… and deadly.
It’s been five years since the events of Rip Tides, and Sergeant Lei Texeira gets into hot water much deeper than she’s used to at a crime scene ninety feet down off of the tiny atoll of Molokini, where the death of beautiful marine biologist Danielle “Lani” Phillips is anything but an accident. More suspects than a school of sharks circle a case that takes Lei into territory that hits dangerously close to home, even as husband Michael Stevens heads into his own uncharted depths.