PhillyFolk Artists

Eric “Ka’ahele” Morales

Eric is a Tahitian dancer and jewelry maker, specializing in creating intricate jewelry out of natural seeds and shells. He began his training in Tahitian dance as a teenager in California, performing with the group, Te Mau Ta‘ata Anuanua (People of the Rainbow), which runs the Kiki Raina Tahiti Fête, the oldest Tahitian dance competition outside of French Polynesia. He has since gone on to perform with groups across the United States. In 2015, he moved to Tahiti to do research for his Ph.D. dissertation, Dancing to Tahitian Drums: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of Globalization. While living there, and on subsequent return trips, he competed twice with a group in the national dance festival of French Polynesia, called Heiva i Tahiti.

During his travels in French Polynesia, he began learning a number of traditional Tahitian crafts as well, and in particular, he studied the delicate art of Marquesan seed jewelry and Paumotu shell leis, making a special trip to the Tuamotu archipelago to apprentice under a traditional Paumotu craftswoman. He has taken every opportunity to learn and practice the process of harvesting seeds, individually drilling, and then weaving them into ornate jewelry, as well as collecting shells, washing, cleaning, and piercing them to be woven into braided leis. He approaches the process of collecting the seeds and shells as a meditative experience, and he learns about the history of each plant and shell as well as their roles in different cultural groups. Seeds and shells are never dyed, nor paired with commercial beads, for it would alter their mana, natural energy. In this way, the jewelry reconnects the wearer with nature.

Eric has given workshops on Tahitian dance and has led academic lectures across the country, discussing the impacts of globalization on indigenous dance and culture forms. Additionally, he has hosted multiple workshops on how to create seed and shell jewelry using locally available and sourced materials. During workshops, participants learn about the area’s biodiversity, the historical, cultural relevance of the collected seeds, and how globalization changes our natural landscape, all done with a focus on indigenous creativity and ways of knowing. Dance and craft workshops can be designed for everyone, from children to seniors.