After 237 years travelling the world, Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s ‘ahuʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet) are finally making their way back home to Hawaii. Here are 10 things you need to know about this historic homecoming!
Source: Bishop Museum
1. Kalani‘ōpu‘u was the chief of Hawai‘i Island whose regal line was traced to the great chief Līloa of Waipiʻo. He was also the uncle of King Kamehameha the Great.
2. In 1779, Kalani‘ōpu‘u greeted an English captain named James Cook after his ship made port in Kealakekua Bay. As a demonstration of his goodwill, Kalani‘ōpu‘u gifted the ‘ahu ʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet) he was wearing to Captain Cook.
3. According to expert scholar Adrienne Kaeppler’s publication Hawaiian Featherwork (2010), Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s cloak seemed to have started as a cape. The design has two red triangles (huinakolu) at the neckline and a red crescent (hoaka) which formed a sacred, protective design; the resulting yellow triangles and a yellow strip at the bottom complete the original cape. The use of so many yellow feathers demonstrates the political power of Kalani‘ōpu‘u.
4. This ‘ahu ‘ula in particular has feathers from about 20,000 birds. Skilled trappers caught the birds by employing various techniques such as snaring their prey midair with nets, or using decoy birds to lure them onto branches coated with a sticky substance. They often harvested only a few feathers from each bird before releasing them back into the wild so they could produce more feathers. Skilled workers belonging to the aliʻi class crafted the olonā cordage backing, a netting used as the foundation for the cloak, onto which the bundles of feathers were attached, creating bold designs.
5. After the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole left on Cook’s ship, both were taken to England and passed through the hands of various museum owners and collectors. They eventually came under the care of Lord St Oswald, who unexpectedly presented his entire collection in 1912 to the Dominion Museum in New Zealand, the predecessor of Te Papa Tongarewa. The cloak and helmet have been in the national collection ever since. In 2013, discussions began among Bishop Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, and OHA to bring these treasures back to Hawai‘i, culminating in this significant homecoming.
6. The cloak has traveled to Hawai‘i twice without the mahiole: Mayday in 1960 and during the exhibition celebrating the 100 Anniversary of Captain Cook and his artificial Curiosities, Jan 18 through July 31, 1978. However, this is the first time in 237 years that both the cloak and helmet will be back home in Hawai‘i together.
7. While Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s ‘ahuʻula and mahiole have been on quite an interesting journey, the return of both treasured objects is a very important event to many people of Hawai‘i because they will be staying in Hawai‘i to reconnect them with their land and their people.
8. From a historical perspective, the artifacts represent a period in the timeline of Hawai‘i when there was a balance between the cultural, political and spiritual parts of Native Hawaiians and the environment.
9. The exhibit space at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum will be called ‘He Nae Ākea: Bound Together.’ This reflects the connection of Kalani‘ōpu‘u to his land and people, the connection between the peoples, nations, and cultures throughout the centuries who have cared for these treasures, as well as the connection between the three institutions directly involved in this loan.
10. On Saturday, March 19th at 9:30am on Bishop Museum’s Great Lawn, there will be a public celebration for the return of Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s ‘ahuʻula and mahiole with the unveiling of He Nae Ākea: Bound Together. There will be an opening ceremony, a performance by Hālau Mele, and featherwork and nae making demonstrations. Admission to the Museum on this day will be free for Hawai‘i residents and Military with ID.