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Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i
Painstakingly handcrafted using plant fiber and innumerable valuable feathers from birds of the islands, works of nā hulu ali‘i, or royal feathers, provided spiritual protection to Hawaiian chiefs for centuries while proclaiming their status and power. With their brilliant coloring and abstract compositions of crescents, triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and lines, the works of art are both beautiful and rich in cultural significance, preserving the legacies of the islands’ powerful chiefs and monarchs
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, featherwork capes and cloaks were also key items of Hawaiian diplomacy, used to secure political alliances and agreements, and they were donned as battlefield regalia, worn in conflicts and seized as spoils from defeated chiefs. Later, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, featherwork—traded with and given to visitors from abroad—became symbolic of Hawaiian heritage and cultural pride.
Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i, a catalogue accompanying a major exhibition at the de Young museum in San Francisco, documents the first comprehensive showing of Hawaiian featherwork mounted on the US mainland. It features rare and stunning examples of some of the finest extant featherwork in the world, including capes and cloaks (‘ahu‘ula), royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu), helmets (mahiole), and god images (akua hulu), as well as related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings, works on paper, and historical photographs. A unique selection of feather garments, objects, and other works are from the royal Hawaiian collections in the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Through scholarly essays and poetic interludes, this lavishly illustrated book explores the central role that these sacred works of art played in the culture and history of the Hawaiian Islands, their unparalleled technical craftsmanship, and an aesthetic tradition unique to the Hawaiian archipelago.