Palm weaver keeps ancient art alive


Local News

June 6, 2018 - 11:32 AM

Billy Ray Hayes shows off his artistry using palm leaves at an Iola Public Library demonstration Tuesday.

Billy Ray Hayes was born and raised on a Cherokee reservation in eastern Oklahoma. When he was old enough to join the service, the U.S. government shipped him to Hawaii. At the end of his military tenure, Billy Ray stayed on in Hawaii, but eventually his money dried up. “So I had to find other things to do,” said Billy Ray. He went from place to place, odd job to odd job. He wore a backpack. He adopted dreadlocks. Eventually, he made the acquaintance of the local Samoan community. “They accepted me like one of their own,” remembered Billy Ray.

One day, Billy Ray Hayes was sitting on the beach with one of the young Samoan women. He complained to the woman about his money woes. “Here, let me show you something,” she said. She took a single palm leaf and, with a few cryptic twists of her hands, she made a rose.

“Right then,” remembered Billy Ray, “I got it. And, after that, I was making all kinds of things with palm leaves, things would just come to me.” Flowers, grasshoppers, turtles, hearts, angel wings, crosses, hats, sandals, baskets. “See, I learned how to manipulate the leaf.”

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