Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Possibly 18th or 19th century AD
This cape may have been worn by a Hawaiian chief of lesser status, judging by the types of feathers used to decorate it. Apart from the upper red band, possibly of 'apapane feathers, the rest are from common species. The black and white feathers are those of cocks, and the golden brown side panels are made of bantam feathers. The cape is backed with olona (Touchardia latifolia) fibre netting, and has plaited olona fibre neck ties.
A cape of this type required less labour than the prestigious cloaks and capes of tiny red and yellow feathers. Larger feathers could be backed with a coarser meshed netting, and fewer feathers were needed to cover it.
This trapezoidal shaped garment has a straight neckline. The Hawaiian specialist Adrienne Kaeppler argues that this style of cape was practical wear for battles. The neckline extended upwards to cover the back of the neck and acted as protection from flying spears. The fibre loops at the lower corners help the wearer to hold the cape away from his body, forming a protective shield.
A.L. Kaeppler, 'Hawaiian art and society: traditions and transformations' in Transformations of Polynesian (Auckland, The Polynesian Society, Memoir no. 45, 1985), pp. 105-31
P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of Hawaii (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1957)