Irene Tukuafu stands with her newly crafted harp. The harp is the 46th Tukuafu has made. She will perform on the harp with husband and daughter at Tutu’s House in Waimea on Thursday, April 4, at 5:30 p.m. PHOTO COURTESY OF MA’ATA TUKUAFU FOR NHN
When Irene Tukuafu has a dream, through faith and perseverance, she makes it happen. And when she wanted a harp that was $7,000 more than 25 years ago, she didn’t allow the cost to deter her – she just made her own.
Now, Tukuafu is completing her 46th harp for her daughter, Hina Sewell in Kailua-Kona. Finished with a dark stain, it is inlaid with abalone.
“She wanted it that way,” Tukuafu said of the harp’s color and inlay. “It is perfect, and it shines beautifully.”
The 72-year-old said an Episcopal nun first introduced her to the harp when she was attending the University of Hawaii in Manoa. Tukuafu said she took to it instantly. At a harp convention, she saw the $7,000 harp and decided to take a chance and to try building a much less expensive harp kit.
“It hooked me,” she said. She’s been making harps ever since.
Tukuafu also makes dulcimers, psalteries and many other wooden musical instruments, as well as furniture in her shop in Nauvoo, Ill.
“I love working with the wood, and I love sanding it,” she said. “I love the whole process.”
The Tukuafus recently completed the home in Nauvoo, a round house made from logs that were originally from an old log cabin built in around 1750. The circular home is filled with all kinds of musical instruments, many made by Tukuafu.
“That was my dream from 30 years ago that is a dream manifested,” Tukuafu said. There she has her own shop where she builds harps.
“When I’m at home and have all the tools, I can make a harp in a week and a half,” she said. “The advantage of 46 is I know what to do by now.”
Tukuafu, a devout Mormon, has also given away three of her harps to people who are blind. She also plays her harps and other instruments in hospitals and other places where people can enjoy her music. No matter where she goes, she said the harp has a healing effect on listeners and on those who play it.
She said she makes many different styles of harps, but she uses the Voyager to play in hospitals, because she can travel with it.
“I really love harps,” she said. “I love to see a bunch of pieces of wood be glued and clamped together and at the end, to have music come out of it.”
Tukuafu grew up in a musical environment in California. Her grandmother taught piano and her mother played piano, and eventually also gave lessons. She said when she met Tomasi Tukuafu, he fit her ideal husband criteria. Not only was he handsome, but he also had a great singing voice and played musical instruments – fulfilling her second requirement.
Married for 48 years, the Tukuafus have 14 children and 48 grandchildren, with more on the way. She said her children all were exposed to music and a variety of instruments, and they spent many nights playing music together.
“Every one of them plays one or two instruments and they all sing beautifully,” she said.
The Tukuafus lived on Oahu with their children for 35 years, and Tomasi Tukuafu is a former science teacher at Kahuku High School on Oahu. The couple now regularly visits their three daughters on Hawaii Island, Kapua Sewell in Hilo, Hina Sewell in Kailua-Kona, and Ma’ata Tukuafu in Waimea.
The Tukuafu family will perform music at Tutu’s House in Waimea at 5:30 p.m., on Thursday, April 4. Irene Tukuafu will play music on the harp she made for her daughter and will talk about her instrument making. Tomasi Tukuafu will share his Tongan slack key guitar and music on the Autoharp. Ma’ata Tukuafu, their oldest daughter, will present a slideshow of her travels to ancient places in New Zealand and Tonga. All are welcome. Please call 885-6777 to RSVP. There are no fees for Tutu’s House programs, but tax-deductible donations are welcome.
Tukuafu said she will be back next winter, and if anyone is interested in having her make a harp, to contact her.