Hamrick, The Carpenter
My first goal on Kosrae was to locate the carpenter who had built his own home in the traditional manner after working at KVR, and interview him. I learned that his name was Hamrick T. Kilafwakun and I was given directions to his house. I borrowed a bike from my host and made my way over the hill and down into the valley where Hamrick lived. I found his house and his wife called him in from the forest where he was clearing an area to be used for gardening. We met and Hamrick invited me into his new home. While his two children ran about and his wife cooked lunch, we talked about the building of KVR and his house.
I was interested in his reasons for building in the traditional manner, and the elements that influenced these reasons. Trying not to lead his thoughts, I asked him why he built his house in the old way rather than with modern materials as most of the other new houses were built. He responded that it was the culture of the island and that it should be preserved. He pointed out that the materials were from the land, and that no cash was necessary for the construction. He told me, "If the money supply drops, a person can still build a house." Further, Hamrick said that material accessibility was not a problem with traditional construction. On the other hand, he had noticed that the supply of imported materials was not consistent and this was often the cause of construction delays. In Hamricks opinion, the skills to build in an indigenous manner are available. The reason this type of construction is not used, he believes, is that "the people are lazy now."
The woven panels used for wall surfaces at KVR and at Hamricks house were unusual. I examined them and remembered how I had been told that this method had been used in the past and then become a lost art; however, the woven panels had been reinvented during the construction at KVR. Hamrick explained that resurrecting the weaving had actually not been so difficult or mysterious the weaving method had been taken from the kuwon, a traditional Kosraean food service platter. The platter is woven from coconut leaves and hung from the ceiling by lines as a food storage method when not used as a service tray.
When asked specifically where the idea had come from to build in the traditional manner, Hamrick answered that it had occurred to him while he was working on the construction of KVR. He told me that some Kosraeans thought the concrete houses were better because they were new and modern; these same people viewed traditional construction methods as foolish or only acceptable if one could not afford more. Seeing that tourists were interested in indigenous architecture and even willing to pay extra for it, Hamrick decided that he wanted to use it when he built his own house.
I was curious to find out if others in the community were also experiencing this shift in values were Hamricks views isolated, or were other individuals interested in constructing a home in the traditional way? He told me that other Kosraeans were, in fact, interested in indigenous architecture and that he had been asked to help with the construction of a number of houses. Not wanting the extra work, Hamrick suggested that these people start the construction on their own. None felt competent, so (at least up until the time of my visit) no new houses had been started using traditional construction methods.
The Kilafwakun house, though mostly of traditional construction, did have some innovation and used some imported materials in a way similar to the construction process at KVR. The floors were made of plywood, the footings were concrete and Hamrick had installed electricity, hot and cold running water and a telephone. One point of innovation that caused me serious concern was his introduction of a polyethylene vapor barrier along the inside of his wall surfaces. I explained to Hamrick that, although this barrier would reduce the moisture coming through the walls in extreme weather, it would also reduce the comfort of the house due to limited air circulation.
The key points of interest I learned while talking with Hamrick were:
I next decided that it would be worthwhile to interview the owners and other workers at KVR. I had heard that they were building additional bungalows at KVR, so I thought it might be likely that I would be able to find someone to talk with at the resort.