Most of the great chiefly families of Hawaii retain in their possession the insignias
of rank inherited from their distant ali’i ancestor, usually a high chief or king.
Typically, the items passed down are weapons and chiefly vestments worn by the Ali’i.
These include the whale tooth necklace (lei niho palaoa), made up of a hook-shaped
bone pendant suspended from braids of human hair with fibre cord of the olona (touchardia
latifolia) attached as ties.
Lei Niho Palaoa(Whale Tooth Necklace).
This one is in the collection of the British Museum.
The most prized items of all were those constructed of feather work. Hawaiian feather
work was at one time restricted only to the royal family, high chiefs, lower chiefs
(using less valuable feathers) and images of the gods (such as Kukailimmoku). Common
people did not have the right to wear feathers.
`Aha`ula (Feather Cape)
Chiefess Liliha and Chief Boki.
The complete regalia of the high chiefs would include a feather malo (loin cloth),
ka`ei (feathered girdle or belt), `aha`ula (feather cape), mahiole (helmet), kahili
pa`a lima to be carried in the hand, kahili lele carried by a personal attendant
and used as a fan or fly-flap as need arose, kahili carried before the chief as a
banner, and large formal kahili for state functions. These feather items often were
given their own personal names as in, for example, the feather cloak “Halakeao`I`ahu”
and the kahili “Ele`eleualani.”
“Eheukani” was the name given to the `aha`ula (feather cape) belonging to Solomon
L.K. Peleioholani (1842-1906), father of Charles Peleioholani Kekoolani, Sr. (1875-1944).
The cloak was cataloged and described by William T. Brigham in a report on Hawaiian
Featherwork commisioned by the Bishop Museum in 1903.
A cloak said to have been destroyed in the conflagration caused accidentally in the
attempt of the Board of Health to stamp out the bubonic plague in the Chinese quarter
of Honolulu. At the time when the claims for losses caused by this great fire were
presented to the Commission appointed for the purpose, my assistant, Mr. Allen M.
Walcott, obtained from the claimant, Peleioholani, a carpenter by trade, the following
particulars : The cloak was called “Eheukani” and was made in the time of Keeaumoku
(the father of Kaahaumanu) and finished shortly before the battle of Mokuohai (July,
1782) between Kamehameha and Kiwalao. Keeaumoku's wife gave it to Peleioholani's
Principally mamo feathers with a small crescent of red iiwi in each upper corner;
between the shoulders a round spot of black oo feathers, from which a line of red
iiwi led down to a trifle below the middle of the cloak. The cords at the neck were
of human hair, an unusual thing.
It must be remembered that the design as well as the following measurements are from
the description given to Mr. Walcott by Peleioholani and are of course only approximate.
They are worth recording as differing from any robes described. Length, about 4 feet
9 inches; neck measurement circumference at bottom about 5 feet 8 inches. It is a
matter of tradition that 27,000 birds were captured to furnish the feathers for this
In the left side were seven spear holes that were never patched, and about which
were blood stains. Keeaumoku was severely wounded in this battle, and it was rather
a fancy with the old chiefs to retain the honorable scars in the ahuula, as in the
cloak given by Kamehameha to Vancouver to be taken to England for King George.
- ADDITIONAL NOTES ON HAWAIIAN F FEATHER WORK Memoirs of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop
Museum VOLUME 1 No.5 (By WILLIAM T. BRIGHAM, A.M.)
LOST IN FIRE
“Eheukani” was lost, and presumed destroyed, along with other chiefly regalia and
precious possessions belonging to Solomon Peleioholani during the great Chinatown
Fire of 1900. The history of the cloak and the story of how it disappeared was told
in a newspaper article from 1902.
Solomon L. Peleioholani, one of the highest surviving chiefs of the Hawaiian race,
the man who stood before Lunalilo when he was crowned King of the Hawaiian Islands,
wearing the famous cloak, helmet and necklace, and also stood before Kalakaua at
the latter’s coronation and received the foreign representatives.
His father’s name was also Peleioholani and his mother’s name was Piikeakaluaonalani,
his great grandfather being the high chief Keeaumoku, one of the ablest supporters
of Kamehameha I.
It was in the battle of Mokuoha, which was fought between Kamehameha and Kiwalao
in July, 1783 that Keeaumoku distinguished himself and performed a deed which has
been one of the greatest treasures handed down to Peleioholani. The death of Kiwalao
in that battle gave Kamehameha prestige over the entire island of Hawaii. It was
Keeaumoku who killed Kiwalao in a hand-to-hand contest, and thus the greatest opponent
to Kamehameha’s success was removed.
Keeaumoku went into battle arrayed in his magnificent mamo feather cloak and helmet,
spear, hair necklace and feather baldric, seven feet long. Upon his hands were the
terrible lelamanos, or battle gloves. Each glove was formed of two strips of wood,
each strip being fitted with four shark’s teeth, sharpened to a keen edge. These
were fastened to the middle fingers of each hand with thongs. In a hand-to-hand contest
the battle gloves were weapons which were at once cruel and death dealing.
Keeaumoku and Kiwalao, uncle and nephew, came face to face during the battle and
were about to commence the hand-to-hand contest when a supporter of Kiwalao struck
Keeaumoku to the ground. Spears were thrust at him but he caught them in his powerful
hands and turned them aside. But not all, for a spear of seven points finally tore
its way through the cloak into his side, his blood staining the yellow feathers.
Keeaumoku fainted for a few seconds, and on recovering consciousness heard Kiwalao
prohibit a warrior from thrusting a spear through Keeamoku’s throat as he wanted
for spoils of the fight the hair necklace which Keeaumoku wore upon his neck. Keeaumoku
instantly resolved that the necklace would not be removed by his enemy without a
struggle. Gathering all his strength he suddenly arose, and grasping Kiwalao, he
tore open his abdomen with the shark tooth gloves, Kiwalao expiring without an opportunity
to revenge his death wounds.
The blood-stained cloak and all the war accoutrements of Keeaumoku were given to
his wife, Ikanaka and by her to Peleioholani’s grandmother Kahahana, and given into
Peleioholani’s keeping by her. The heirlooms were jealously guarded by Kahahana and
her grandson. Offers were made for their purchase, but though tempted by big sums
of money they would not part with them. Two years ago they were to be sent to be
exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. Peleioholani’s cousin, the Governess Ululani,
and her husband John Baker were to accompany Peleioholani on the journey to Paris.
Then came the plague and Peleioholani was unable to go to Hilo, whence John Baker
and his wife sailed for the mainland. Peleioholani was unable during the strict quarantine
maintained about Honolulu to send the valuable relics of ancient Hawaii to Hilo,
and in the great fire which swept over the city in January, 1900, the famous cloak,
helmet, spear and necklace were destroyed. Even Peleioholani’s medals and papers
received by him at the close of the war were lost.
The blood stained cloak and helmet were closely tied to the fortunes of the Kings
of Hawaii. When Lunalilo was crowned King it was Peleioholani who stood in front
of him clothed in the royal feather emblems of rank, holding the sword of the crown.
The sword was given into the keeping of Lunalilo when he had taken the oath. The
last time the famous cloak and helmet were worn in public was at the coronation of
King Kalakaua on February 12, 1883. Peleioholani and Kekuiapoi, son of the high chiefess
Keano, the two highest chiefs in attendance at the ceremonies, the great grandsons
of Kamehameha-nui-ai-luau, appeared before the King and Queen before the grand ball
was opened the evening of coronation day. Both chiefs were clothed in feather insignia
of rank and stood in front of the King and Queen. These received foreign visitors
and in turn presented them to their majesties. It being a custom which had been observed
from the earliest times told of in tradition.
The history of the heirlooms tells also of Peleioholani’s noble ancestry and his
claim to the title of high chief. It was because he was a high chief that, while
a boy of about ten years, he was sought by Kamehameha IV and his consort Queen Emma,
and taken by them to Honolulu to be brought up as the companion of the Prince of
- “Companion of Prince: A Hawaiian Chief Who Fought in Africa” from PACIFIC COMMERCIAL
ADVERTISER (Honolulu) January 22, 1902 (Abridged version)
And so the story goes. But a mystery remains. Was “Eheukani” really lost in 1900?
Or was seized from the warehouses during the looting which accompanied the Chinatown
Fire? Perhaps Eheukani and the other possessions of Solomon L.K. Peleioholani were
not burned in the fire, but were saved by looters and are still in existence. Feathered
cloaks were in high demand from collectors around the world even at that time. They
would have fetched a good price from private collectors, such as those who had already
tried to buy Eheukani from Peleioholani’s family, but failed. It is our hope the
Eheukani is today in a private collection and will one day be returned to our family.
The `Aha`ula (Feather Cape) “Eheukani” - Artist’s Color Rendition based on drawing
from Bishop Museum Memoirs VOLUME 1 No.5 (By WILLIAM T. BRIGHAM, A.M.) FIGURE 16