Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Feathered helmet (mahiole)
Probably pre-19th century AD
This feathered helmet forms part of the regalia of a high status Hawaiian chief, and were worn during ceremonies and for battle. Other styles of helmet include those covered with human hair instead of feathers, and those ornamented only with mushroom-shaped basketry projections.
This helmet consists of a basketry framework made from the split aerial rootlets of the 'ie'ie (Freycinetia arborea). This is covered with olona (Touchardia latifolia) fibre netting to which the feathers are tied. The red and yellow colours are those favoured by the nobility as symbols of their high status. The helmet has a wide crest, a style associated with the island of Kauai. The crest is covered with fibre coils to which the mainly yellow feathers have been attached. The helmet is mainly covered with red feathers of the 'i'iwi bird, and it is edged with red, yellow and green feathers.
Documentation in the Museum does not reveal when this helmet was brought to Britain, but it is similar in style to helmets brought back from Captain Cook's third voyage in 1779. Alternatively, it may have been collected on later European visits to Hawaii in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. The Hawaiians ceased making feather garments and helmets in the early nineteenth century.
P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of Hawaii (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1957)