Wednesday 17th January 2018,

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The Royal Cloak and Helmet Given to Capt. Cook Returns to Hawaii

posted by Randall


Captain Cook Royal Cloak

The royal feathered cloak and helmet returned to Hawaii on March 19.

By Ed Diokno


Two historical artifacts came home to Hawaii after an absence of 237 years.

In a moving and emotional ceremony the feathered cape and helmet of Kalani’opu’u came home last weekend after being housed  in New Zealand for several years.

“The ʻahuʻula and mahiole left their homeland at the end of the season of Lono in 1779 and the memory they hold in their very fiber is that of a healthy, abundant, sovereign society,” Mehanaokalā Hind, director of community engagement at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a lineal descendant of Kalani’ōpu’u, said in a statement.


Kalani’ōpu’u was the chief of the island of Hawaii in 1779 when English explorer Capt. James Cook landed at Kealakekua Bay during the Makahiki festival. Cook was the first European to make contact with the Hawaiian people. In a gesture of good will, Kalani’ōpu’u gave the feathered cloak and helmet that he was wearing to Cook.

“These priceless treasures have so much to tell us about our shared Pacific history. We are honored to be able to return them home, to reconnect them with their land and their people,” said Arapata Hakiwai, Kaihautu (Maori co-leader) of the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where the artifacts have been on display since the early part of the 20th century. “Woven into these (treasures) is the story of our Pacific history, with all its beauty, challenges and complexity.”

The exhibit at Bishop Museum will be called “He Nae Akea: Bound Together”


Kalani‘ōpu‘u feathered helmet

The mahiole (feathered helmet) of chief Kalani‘ōpu‘u. Michael Hall / Courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarew

10 things you need to know about the return of Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s ‘ahuʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet)

1. Kalani‘ōpu‘u was the chief of Hawai‘i Island whose regal line was traced to the great chief Līloa of Waipiʻo. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. In 2013, discussions began among Bishop Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, and OHA to bring these treasures back to Hawai‘i.

6.The cloak has traveled to Hawai‘i twice without the mahiole: Mayday in 1960 and during the exhibition celebrating the 100th 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. Last March 19 at the Bishop Museum, there was a celebration for the return of Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s ‘ahuʻula and mahiole – home at last.

(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)

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