University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Hawaiian Feather Cloak [Object of the Day #14]

By: Amy Ellsworth

Feather Cloak
Feather Cloak from Hawaii

Cloak consisting of bundles of red and yellow feathers tied in overlapping rows to a netted foundation of plant fiber.  Such cloaks were items of aristocratic regalia, worn by only the highest ranking noble men in ancient Hawaii.  They were signifiers of rank, and provided sacred protection in battle.  It is thought that originally these cloaks may have been entirely red, hence the name ‘ahu ‘ula, which means “red garment.”  Red feathers came from the ‘I’iwi and the apapane, birds which were both predominantly red.  They were caught, using nets and sticky bird lime, by professional feather hunters, who killed and skinned them.  It has been estimated that a full length feather cloak like this one is made up of nearly half a million tiny feathers.

Penn Museum Object #29-58-155.

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