Frequently asked questions

What is a Makau?

A brief history:

The makau (fishhook) is a symbol of strength and prosperity based on the history, legends & stories of the ancient Hawai'ians (kahiko) and many other Polynesian cultures. It was a priceless tool for providing food to sustain the ohana (family). Lacking ore or metals of any kind, the ancient Hawai'ians used coral files and shark tooth implements along with wood and stone tools to create practical, beautiful and sometimes elaborate hooks & lures. They produced hundreds of styles, using human bone, whale bone, shell, wood & more for all different species of fish, fishing techniques, and fishing conditions. The ancient carvers, called "kahuna kalai", were highly revered. There are countless legends and stories about the mana (supernatural or divine power) of fishhooks carved from the bones of great fisherman. Common to most Polynesian cultures is the legend of the demigod Maui, who fished the Hawai'ian islands out of the ocean with a magic hook! Another belief of kahiko Hawai’ians was that fishhooks made from the bones of people without hair on their bodies were more attractive to fish than hooks from normal bones. So these individuals termed olohe,  ran the risk of being prematurely "dispatched" to supply the luck-bringing material! 

Did people actually fish with hooks like these?


Yes. Although a lot of my designs are highly stylized versions or original one-off creations, many are replica versions from ancient designs as seen in the Bishop Museum, Hawai'ian historical accounts and archaeological references. Some of these styles of makau originated thousands of years ago, but many other cultures have used similar wood and bone fishing implements that date back even further. Within the Polynesian triangle, many cultures produced similar makau that were not only highly functional, but truly beautiful in their form and artistic styling. The trained eye can spot the specific ethnicity by the shape and function of the hooks and many Hawai'ian archaeologists even use fishhooks to date village sites. The evolution in the shape of the hooks gives these scientists a way to estimate the age of many discoveries, with later sites having more elaborate and advanced forms and older ones more crude and primitive shapes. 

Wearable Art?

Yes! Many wearers are aggressive style surfers, bodyboarders, skimboarders, snowboarders, professional fisherman, sportsmen, and celebrities. To date, there has never been a lost necklace, even under the most extreme conditions and wipeouts. As each piece ages, the natural oils from the skin of the wearer will add a beautiful honey-colored patina. Many carvers and wearers consider these pieces to carry the essence of the owner, which makes them priceless and filled with Mana!  

Most of our carvings are painstakingly lashed using age-old techniques, then securely mounted on an ancient Polynesian style hand-plaited cord called a kaula. This style is not to be confused with a regular braid or Kumihimo style cord as seen on many Maori style hooks  & pendants. Our kaula is made from four to six strands of nylon/polyester 3-ply waxed cord which won’t break down from the constant wear, water, detergents, body oils, etc. as most natural fibers will. Although natural fibers such as OlonaHau fiber, Flax and Niu (coconut) sennet are the traditional ancient materials used for Polynesian style cordage, we mainly use nylon and polyester cord for its long lasting strength & durability. Every kaula is specifically sized for the wearer as "one-size-fits-all" or adjustable cords aren’t a secure mounting method and can lead to lost or damaged pieces.

This particular style cord is now so popular, many of the cheap mass produced knock-off makers coming from China, Indonesia and Philippines are now using the same style cordage on their low quality copies (usually noticeable by the adjustable method used with small cheap bone beads). 

Whats the story of the Tiki makau?

My most popular and intricate hooks are my custom "Tiki makau" featuring the gods of Polynesian culture finely carved into the shafts of the hooks. Borrowing from an ancient Maori tradition in which the images of Aumakua & Gods are finely carved onto the shaft of the Makau is how I came up with the idea of our copy written custom designed "HawaiianTiki Makau". Each piece is individually fine carved front & back and then signed by myself the artist. Every "Tiki Makau" I create differs slightly from the next just as the images of the Hawaiian gods differ from district to district and island to island. So no two Tikis looked exactly the same and like the sacred ki'i (images) of ancient Hawai'i, every Tiki makau necklace is an original "one-off" creation. I use versions of many Hawaiian Gods and but the most beloved is "Lono", the Hawai'ian god of peace & prosperity. 

Lono was one of the four major gods of Hawaiian culture and the most highly revered. Worshippers sought his guidance and blessings in all things and paid special tribute to Lono at their annual harvest season festival called the "Makahiki". During the celebrations, peace prevailed and the people put aside all grievances as they gave offerings and thanks to 
Lono for their good crops, rain, sunshine and abundant fishing! 

What materials are used?


I work with only the finest & rarest materials legally available. To protect endangered species, I only use fossil material that doesn’t violate any regional or international law. Along with various types of fossil bone & ivory, I use many rare and exotic Hawaiian hardwoods like genuine Koa, Ohia, Kamani, Macadamia, Mango, Guava, Kou, Kiawe. I also use various species of pearl shell like Tahitian Black Pearl, Gold Pearl, White Pearl, Red Abalone, Green Abalone, White Abalone and the prized New Zealand Paua.


Occasionally I will carve with customer supplied materials, such as legal warthog ivory, water buffalo bone, shed antler etc but I DO NOT work with any African ivory or bone materials such as hippo, elephant, giraffe, big cats, etc.


Due to my personal beliefs, I WILL NOT work with human bone of any kind (Legal, medical specimen, or otherwise).

How do you make these carvings?

Each piece is meticulously handcrafted using ancient methods along with modern techniques, and every carving is made to museum quality. I use hand tools such such as gravers, high speed rotary handpieces and many other types of carving tools to create my original one-off creations. No laser or computer assisted methods are used and pay special attention to every detail making every carving a unique handmade treasure that will last a lifetime.

What inspired you to create these carvings?

I struggled and worked as an artist for many years doing graphic design, sculpture, owning and operating a small design company/art gallery and also working as a musician part time (not always successfully). It wasnt until a family get together in Hawai'i around ten years ago, that I finally discovered my true passion and talent as an artist. One day I happened upon a beautiful carving by a local Oahu artist and was immediately inspired. I was blessed to be born of gifted parents who both nurtured my artistic talents from a young age and Ive always had a knack for sculpture and 3-dimensional art. And the method of subtractive sculpture is something thats always appealed to me as an artist. Growing up as one of many grandchildren from a Lana'i pineapple farming family, the love for Hawai'ian and Polynesian culture was instilled in me at a young age and is something very close to my heart. 

I design and carve each piece with a deep respect for the ancient traditions, borrowing the wisdom and style of the ancient masters while striving to create unique and original works of art. My belief, along with many others carvers and subtractive sculptors is that the act of reduction on a solid mass breathes new life into the materials.  Fossil bones and ivories along with rare beautiful woods are resurrected giving life to what was once itself, a living work of art. 

Do you make any other types of carvings?

Yes. I work mainly with Hawai'ian and Polynesian designs, but Im not limited in what I can create and have carved many other types of forms not just the Oceanic. Feel free to take a look at the custom works gallery and youll see examples on non-Polynesian style pieces Ive created from Jet planes to various animal forms. If you have a particular carving in mind and cant find and artist to create it for you I may be able to help. Feel free to visit my commissions and contact page for more information.

I have a carving thats needs re-lashing or repair, can you help?

Yes. I can re-lash and repair most makau and carvings. I also offer lashing and mounting services for all kinds of jewelry depending on style and method desired. Please email for more information and photos are usually required for answers on repair questions.

Do you accept returns?

Yes. If for any reason youre unhappy with your carving, you may return it at any time for a full refund. Due to the materials and nature of the work, Items must be returned unworn and in their original condition in order to be accepted. Replacements and upgrades are available under certain circumstances so please email with any inquiries.

Do you make yourself accessible to your collectors?

Yes. Im available for questions, comments etc and I can reached anytime via email, text or phone. Please see the Commissions and artist contact page for more information.

Where can I learn how to carve?

In todays day and age, there are countless resources online and elsewhere, where you can learn

the skills and techniques of ancient style bone carving. There are also numerous carving clubs, groups and consortiums all across the world where you can learn tricks and tips from master carvers such as myself and others. Check out these links for more info:

The home for Tiki collectors and creators, Polynesian pop enthusiasts and lovers of the lowbrow art movement.

An online database for everything Polynesian and Tiki culture related.

A private, members only forum where you can view and discuss the art of subtractive sculpture.

The Hawai'i state museum of cultural and natural history with an online database of ancient Polynesian fishhooks, carvings and more...


Vince is awesome and his work is truly amazing. He worked with me to custom tailor several pieces based on my individual preferences and he nailed it each time. Whenever I wear one of his Makaus, his work turns heads and I make new friends. Everyone wants to know where I found such amazing pieces. 

                                                                                                                                                        Christopher Todd-Miami Beach, FL

I learned about Vince’s work years while doing an online search for traditional Hawaiian makau. His work exemplified the ancient style I had been looking for and I happily made my first purchase. Fast forward to my current work in celebrating and preserving Hula through photography. I had been given a gift of a Niho (whale tooth) considered a sacred object in ancient Hawaii that I wanted to use in a photo shoot. I turned to Vince to help determine the best way to represent what would be done in ancient Hawaii. His advice and talent helped create something that looks like it belongs in a museum. 

                                                                                                                                                           Peter T. Richards, The Hula Dance

I first bought one of Vince Cabanilla's makau's almost a decade ago and I'm still wearing the very same original.  Since then I've purchased numerous works of art from Vince, and now my entire family proudly sports his amazing makau's.  His pieces are exceptional, they are both beautiful and of the highest durability.  His cords are like no other, I've even had him relash other people's work, who's cords were questionable.  I am very thankful to have found Vince and his wonderful art.  Once you wear one of his makau's, you need not look anywhere else.  I now consider Vince to be a good friend of mine.  Mahalo Vince, best of luck brah!

                                                                                                                                                                    Jared Bish-Anchorage, AK

I have seen many Makaus in my life, but none match the quality, style, and unique craftsmanship of those created by Vince. His pieces are true works of art that start conversations every where I go. I could swear that they also seem to hold some sort magical powers that often bring good luck! ;)

                                                                                                                                                     Renata Santos-Miami Beach, FL

I've been collecting, making, and admiring island style makau for around 20 years. I've seen a lot of the cheap knock-off's, some nicer pieces and a few quality pieces here and there…After receiving this Pa Kahawai Lure style of yours… I must say, and no bull s*** brah… You have some skills. Were talking  MUSEUM QUALITY .. Took my breath away!


                                                                                                                                                                       Lou Joest-Eagle River, AK

Vince is an exceptional artist and businessman. His customer service was amazing. No matter how many questions I had, he was quick to answer them. I placed an order for a custom piece and was breathtaken by the final product. I will have no problem ordering from him again. 
                                                                                                                                                                             MC-Baltimore, MD

I had a custom design in mind for an Ankh. So I sent it to Vince who made suggestions on the materials and styling. A short time later I was holding the piece. I was totally impressed with the quality of Vince’s work, and his superb service!

                                                                                                                                                                     Ken Davis- Nashville, TN

I have only made one purchase through Vince but the experience was exceptional. I found his website through an internet search and contacted him by email. He responded in a timely manner and accommodated ALL of my special requests (throughout the process and prior to payment) without hesitation - including sending photos and sketches. The custom piece arrived safely and on time as promised. The makau was a gift for the newest addition to our family and everyone was pleased with his work.
                                                                                                                                                          LiveLaughLove-New Freedom, PA

I have many pieces created by Vince and have had great customer service experiences with him. If there was ever a question or concern he was quick to get back with me so that I was happy with his product. Vince has been great answering any questions I have about carvings and designing personal creations. I wear one of his pieces daily and it always brings me mana. I have no reservations about doing business with Vince in the future. He's been a stand up business man with me and I know I can trust him when it comes to the quality of his products.

Aloha a hui hou e Vinny, e malama pono i kou kino.
                                                                                                                                                                           Alika- Sacramento, CA

I have had nothing but positive experiences while doing business with Vince...

He has always been professional in our interactions; he was always prompt with communications, and made efforts to ensure I would be satisfied with my purchase. My purchases always arrived when he said they would; they arrived packaged with an obvious care that speaks to the pride that he puts into his work. He even sent me an email to ensure that the package arrived--and that I was happy with it. In this day and age--it's nice. Nothing will stop--or even slow--me from doing business with Vince in the future. In my opinion, fueled by my numerous business interactions with him, Vince is good as gold.
                                                                                                                                                                             JF-San Francisco, CA

I was and continue to be thoroughly pleased with my transaction with Vince. The custom makau he made for me as a gift to my husband is beautiful. Right from the start I appreciated Vince's open and friendly demeanor and responsiveness to my inquiries. He was pleasant to speak with on the phone as well. He was very helpful and patient as I figured out what I wanted to get for my husband. He was very quick in sending me the makau and it was as beautiful as I'd hoped. My husband loved it. I mis-measured, though, and the cord/necklace portion was too small. Vince was more than happy to braid a new, longer cord, in a different color no less, and did it all free of charge. It took a little while for this re-cording to be done, but the makau was received back to me in good enough time. My husband loves it and proudly wears it every day. I would not hesitate ordering another makau from Vince. His craftsmanship is excellent and while he may not always be the quickest, he follows through on what he pledges and does so in a most pleasant manner.
                                                                                                                                                              Private collector, Iowa city, IA

My name is Chris and I own many custom makau's made by Vince. I have never had a problem ONCE with ordering his work. He is very dedicated and takes great repletion in every one of his pieces. He also has great communication and describes everything with great detail. After I have ordered he will call and give me updates and also send me pictures of the "work in progress." Shipping is always cheap, fast and with delivery confirmation and Im very satisfied.
                                                                                                                                                   Chris-Toms River (Ocean beach), NJ

I ordered a custom necklace and recieved it in a timely manner. Since I live locally, he even delivered it in person to my house. I was very satisfied with the necklace he made for me.
                                                                                                                                                                             Sam- Long Beach, CA

My name is Raymond and I live in Jupiter Florida.When I first contacted Vince for my Tiki Makau I was impressed with his open sincerity.He spent alot of time and patience with me going over each piece and sent me several detailed e-mails of the pieces. When I finally picked out a piece he told me when it would be shipped and when I should expect it.Vince was right on and even sent me several e-mails to make sure I recieved the piece and if I was Happy.

I was so impressed with his business acumen that I ordered another piece and had a repeat performance
 of A+++ service.I will be ordering other pieces for friends and family moving forward in the new year. He has a way of setting up a great feeling of trust and commitment when you talk to him ---- even though I have never met Vince I consider him a Friend. Bottom line : Do yourself a favor if you want the best in artistry and honesty buy a piece from him, a stand up merchant.
                                                                                                                                                                                   Ray-Jupiter, Florida

Two makaus without a hitch! The 1st one i ordered in 2004 on ebay.  It was a half koa half bone piece lashed together with a mother of pearl keystone.  The lashing snapped after being repeatedly caught up in my sweater while snowboarding.  I sent it to Vince and he relashed it for like 15 bucks.  I was impressed with his service and quality so I bought another one, all bone, because I knew the lashed together style would break again eventually.  Well it sucks but another winter later and it broke again and Ill fix it someday but Ive worn the all bone piece everyday since 2006.  It has held up well from scuba diving in the Galapagos, surfing Huntington Beach, and cliff diving in the Manu region of the Peruvian rainforest it has held up solid.  Its aged very well as it always gets a good rub everyday and all of the materials are still strong.  The pieces I ordered were already made when I bid on ebay for them so I received my orders within a week or so but Vince has always answered my questions and has always been very nice.  I only have much Mahalo! for the kupanaha no'eau of da kine makau!
                                                                                                                                                                                    Chris-Denver, CO

I am not a friend, only a consumer. I purchased my first Makau from Vince 3 years ago and had no problem. I purchased another one last year and again had no problems. Both were beautifully carved and arrived in a normal amount of time, considering they are hand carved. While awaiting my purchases, he always updated me as to the progress, even sedding my pictures of each process it took to carve. There was a discrepancy as to the size of my first purchase, which as a bit too short. He sent me an extension at no cost. I would recommend him to anyone who wishes to purchase hand carved Hawaiian jewelry.
                                                                                                                                                                                   Doug-Glendale, CA 

Dear Fellow Hawaiian Ivory Hook Lovers:
Worth the wait! I ordered a large hook from Vince. I informed him that I was not in a hurry and wanted something special. It took six (6) months, but I am now the owner of a very special hook! It should be noted that a hook will last a lifetime and that the materials Vince is working with are becoming harder and harder to find. I am very happy with my hook!
                                                                                                                                                                                    Paul, Boston, MA