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Hawai’ian feather cape
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This cape made of bird feathers showed the importance and status of its wearer. In the Hawai’ian islands of Polynesia, only men of high status were such featherwork regalia in ceremonies and battle. The cape is made from olona fibre (Touchardia latifolia) netting, on to which tiny bundles of feathers have been attached in overlapping rows. The red feathers come from the i’iwi bird (Vestiaria cocchinea), and the yellow and black feathers from the o’o (Moho nobilis). Red feathers were reserved for those of highest rank, but yellow feathers became the most highly prized colour due to their rarity.

Large numbers of feathered cloaks and capes were given as gifts to the sea captains and their crews who were the earliest European visitors to Hawai’i. Captain Cook himself was presented with five or six feathered cloaks during his last, fatal, visit there in 1779. It is not known, however, who brought this particular cape back to Britain.

Hawai’ian feather cape


From Hawai’I, Polynesia, probably before AD 1850.
W. 70 cm.
Gift of Sir AW Franks.



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