Nā Hulu Makamae

Nā Hulu Makamae

Nā Hulu Makamae

Nā Hulu Makamae – Cherished Feathers

20th from the series:‘Ike Ho‘omaopopo by artist: LeoHone

Velvety soft feathers in a profusion of brilliant colors– he mea makamae kamaha’o o nā ali’i (a remarkable treasure belonging to royalty).

Historically and up to the time of King Kamehameha I, feathers were considered to be of more value than anything and the feathers and the plumage birds were the exclusive property of the ali’i (royalty). From the notes in Captain Cook’s journal about his experience when he sailed to Waimea (Kaua’i) in 1778, we know that he and his crew were amazed at the rich, intricate array of the ‘ahu’ula (feathered capes) and mahiole (feathered helmets) worn by the ali’i. While there were other Polynesian societies that also used feathers, none could match the sophistication or quality of workmanship exhibited by the Hawaiian artisans. Their feathers far surpassed all others in their brightness and variety of colors – largely due to the fact that the plumage birds (the Hawaiian honey creepers) used to create the magnificent ‘ahu, mahiole, and exquisite feather lei were only found in Hawai’i.

The Hawaiian honey creepers are small, passerine birds endemic to Hawai’i. The mamo birds (extinct since the 1880’s) were mostly black except for dark yellow feathers above and below the tail – widely used in ‘ahu’ula. Scarlet feathers came from the i’iwi bird and a deep crimson from the ‘apapane. The ‘ō’ō (extinct) had soft yellow feathers and the small ‘amakihi birds yellow and green feathers. The ‘akakane (endangered) birds are black. The‘ō’ū is an extremely rare kind of Hawaiian honeycreeper with olive green feathers.

In making an ‘ahu (cloak), craftsmen used a mesh foundation of the garment, working from left to right along the bottom using 2-ply fibers from the olonä plant (also found only in Hawai’i). There were many designs using triangles, crescents, half-crescents, stripes, and diamonds; however, nothing has been recorded as to the significance of these varied designs. Single color (‘alaneo) ‘ahu were only for the Ali’i Aimoku (island ruler).

Mahiole helmets were created by tying feathers to a fine netting fitted to the helmet framework.

Feather lei (nā lei hulu manu) were only to be worn by women ali’i. There were paukū lei (made of alternating solid colors of varying width) and mo’oni style which spirally arranged the different colored feathers.Lei kamoe (the sleek, slender “rope”) was created by aiming the feather tips downward. Today, the lei kamoe is a much treasured part of the regalia for the wāhine in Hawaiian Royal Societies.

Kahili were large cylinders of feathers atop 8′-14′ poles. These symbolized royalty. Today we see them in culturally significant settings — Hawaiian offices/government departments, palaces, churches, schools, and festivals.

With the introduction of the pāpale (hat) to Hawai’i in the 1800’s, flat hat bands or humupapa were soon popular. Although historically, feather creations were reserved for only a select few, today people of all walks are sporting humupapa on their hats. These are commonly made from feathers from peacocks, pheasants, chicken, ducks and geese – often dyed.

Nā hulu makamae … still today a most remarkable treasure of Hawai’i.


Setting: morning light in Mānoa (O’ahu). The artisans portrayed are all from one noted family of featherworkers, spanning four generations: left to right Taryn Lelea’e Kahalepuna Wong, her grandmother Paulette Nohealani Kahalepuna, her great grandmother “Aunty Mary Lou” Mary Louise Kaleonahenahe Wentworth Peck Kekuewa, and her mother Regina Mele Kahalepuna Chun. (My beautiful lei kamoe for Nā Wāhine Hui O Kamehameha was made for me by Paulette Kahalepuna.)

– Leohone 2018


Artist Proofs Edition A Edition B

28″ x 35.6″ 20″ x 25.5″ 16″ x 20.3″ signed “LeoHone” and numbered AP 1/75 – AP 75/75 signed “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288 signed “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288

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