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Legendary Garments

At Bishop Museum, legendary feathered garments important to Hawaiian history take center stage.

Back home after two centuries, the mahiole (feathered helmet) of 18th century ali‘i (chief) Kalani‘opu‘u is now on display at Bishop Museum.

A part of Hawaiian history has come to life. In 1779, Kalani‘ōpu‘u, the reigning ali‘i (chief) of Hawai‘i Island, presented his prized ‘ahu ‘ula (feathered cape) and mahiole (feathered helmet) as a demonstration of good will to British Capt. James T. Cook. Now, Kalani‘ōpu‘u’s adornments have returned to the islands as part of a long-term loan to Bishop Museum, in partnership with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where they have been maintained since the 20th century. For those unfamiliar with these priceless artifacts, they are indeed cultural treasures. First, the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole reflect the respect and prestige given to the ali‘i class. Then, there is the painstaking craftsmanship behind them. The ‘ahu ‘ula, for instance, was expertly made out of feathers from about 20,000 birds—many of them carefully gathered without harm to the forest birds that provided them. For a better understanding of these avian wonders, visit the concurrent exhibition, Lele o Nā Manu: Hawaiian Forest Birds, which runs through July 31. $24, $15 for Hawai‘i residents, 1525 Bernice St., Kapālama, O‘ahu, 847.8259