OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

In 1779, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, aliʻi nui of Hawaiʻi Island, greeted Capt. James Cook in Kealakekua Bay and draped his treasured ʻahu ʻula over the newcomer’s shoulders as a gesture of goodwill. While Cook himself would not leave Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s feathered cape and mahiole sailed back to Europe with Cook’s crew, and ultimately ended up at the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

An unprecedented partnership between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Bishop Museum and Te Papa with support from Hawaiian Airlines enabled the return of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s priceless garments. In March 2016, a delegation from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Bishop Museum and Hawaiian Airlines traveled to Aotearoa to engage in protocol and return the ʻahuʻula and mahiole to Hawaiʻi.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs documented this awe-inspiring journey in the film, “Nā Hulu Lehua: The Royal Cloak and Helmet of Kalaniʻōpuʻu.” The 25-minute documentary shares the significance of high chief Kalaniʻōpuʻu, his mea kapu and the incredible partnerships that made their historic return home possible.

[Watch it now via this link]

Na Hulu Lehua D.C. screenings

Nā Hulu Lehua – The Royal Cloak & Helmet of Kalani‘ōpu‘u will be shown at these special community screenings:

Rasmuson Theater,
National Museum of the American Indian
Sat., May 20 & Sun., May 21, 2017, 2:00 p.m.
Fourth Street & Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20560
Phone: 202-633-1000
TTY (non-voice): 202-633-5285
(Event Flier)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park  (Event Flier)
at Kahuku Unit Visitor Center on Friday, May 26, 2017.
Doors open at 9:30 a.m., Film starts at 10:00 a.m.
92-7400 Mamālahoa Highway, Nāʻālehu, Hawaiʻi 967222

Kalaniʻōpuʻu Inspires

The return of the ʻahuʻula and mahiole of high chief Kalaniʻōpuʻu has inspired different feelings and actions amongst those who have beared witness to the historic return. We invite you to share what Kalaniʻōpuʻu has inspired in you.

Mahalo for sharing your manaʻo on this historic return. Your manaʻo may be incorporated into promotional materials to help continue the cycle of inspiration.kalaniopuu-hr

Community Feedback

Kalaniʻōpuʻu Inspires …

By welcoming newcomers from the outside world with open arms, even going beyond that by bestowing upon Captain Cook his own ʻahu ʻula, Kalaniʻōpuʻu proved to be a shining example of the accepting nature that my people continue to convey. As a native Hawaiian I believe that it is because of him that, although it may not be as prevalent as it once was, my culture thrives among those who share the aloha spirit that he nurtured so long ago.
– Haʻili L., 15, Kihei

I was excited to see myself in the movie (I was at the Bishop Museum on the day the cloak and helmet arrived back home) and after watching this movie I want to trace my genealogy to find my ancestors.
– Logan A., 9, Kailua

Mahalo for your efforts in getting this treasure returned home and mahalo for sharing your story with us here in Kona. I was touched at the deepest level to my core.
– Paul B., 55, Pahoehoe

I had the opportunity to be at the dedication of this historical event last year at the Bishop Museum, which I’m a member of! My ʻohana from Kukuiopae, South Kona, Kohala, and Waipiʻo of Hawaiʻi Moku were also here.  My great grandmother was born and raised in the area where this historical event took place two centuries ago. The feeling of connection is there within our being. We were there to show and share our manaʻo, and most of all, our aloha nui!
– Lani A., 72, Waimānalo

I like learning about the Hawaiian culture in books or movies. It helps me understand the culture of Hawaii better. I moved here a few years ago, and I’m still trying to understand our culture surrounded by the sea.
– Dallin R., 9, Laie

See all responses

kalaniopuu-hrIn 1779, the reigning chief of Hawai‘i Island, Kalani‘ōpu‘u, who traced his regal line to the great chief Līloa of Waipiʻo, greeted an English captain named James Cook after his ship made port in Kealakekua Bay. As a demonstration of his goodwill, Kalani‘ōpu‘u gifted the ‘ahu ʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet) he was wearing to Captain Cook. Now, this storied ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole will return together to its home islands for the first time since it left its shores on Cook’s ship 237 years ago. From a historical perspective, the artifacts represent a period in the timeline of Hawai‘i when there was a balance between the cultural, political and spiritual parts of the Native Hawaiian and the environment. In a partnership between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), The National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole of Kalani‘ōpu‘u will make its monumental journey in March 2016 to be displayed at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, O‘ahu. “We are very proud to be working together to make the return of the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole possible. This historic collaboration is celebrated among each of our organizations as we transfer, receive, and care for these pieces, and continue in a tradition of mutual respect among the cultures of the Pacific,” said representatives from OHA, Te Papa Tongarewa, and Bishop Museum in a joint statement. “We are thrilled and honored to be able to return these treasures home to Hawai‘i, and into the care of the Bishop Museum,” said Rick Ellis, chief executive of Te Papa Tongarewa. “When they are shared with the people of Hawai‘i, I am sure they will inspire some wonderful conversations and insights, as they did when displayed here in Aotearoa New Zealand.” The feathered cloak and helmet have great extrinsic value, but more importantly, they possess great intrinsic and spiritual significance. For Native Hawaiians, the ‘ahu ‘ula, mahiole, and all other featherwork were reserved exclusively for the use of their ali‘i (royalty), symbolizing their chiefly divinity, rank and power. It embodied the life essence of a thriving abundant environment which are the telltale signs of leadership, as it takes a healthy forest ecosystem to produce enough bird feathers and cordage to make these regal pieces. From a historical perspective, the artifacts represent a period in the timeline of Hawai‘i when there was a balance between the cultural, political and spiritual parts of Native Hawaiians and the environment. kalaniopuu-hr 20,000 birds captured and released. 500,000 feathers lashed one-by-oneThe construction of featherwork in ancient Hawai‘i required an incredible amount of labor and craftsmanship. This ‘ahu ‘ula in particular has feathers from about 20,000 birds. Skilled trappers caught the birds by employing various techniques such as snaring their prey midair with nets, or using decoy birds to lure them onto branches coated with a sticky substance. They often harvested only a few feathers from each bird before releasing them back into the wild so they could produce more feathers. Skilled workers belonging to the aliʻi class crafted the olonā cordage backing, a netting used as the foundation for the cloak, onto which the bundles of feathers were attached, creating bold designs. After the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole left on Cook’s ship, both were taken to England and passed through the hands of various museum owners and collectors. They eventually came under the care of the Lord St Oswald, who unexpectedly presented his entire collection in 1912 to the Dominion Museum in New Zealand, the predecessor of Te Papa Tongarewa. The cloak and helmet have been in the national collection ever since. In 2013, discussions began among the Bishop Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, and OHA to bring these treasures back to Hawai‘i, culminating in this significant homecoming. “I’m grateful to witness the return of these cultural heirlooms, and how it is being made possible by the kōkua of many in both New Zealand and Hawaiʻi,” said Kamana‘opono Crabbe, Ka Pouhana of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “The return of the ʻahu ʻula and mahiole to Hawaiʻi is a cause for celebration and it will be a source of inspiration, reflection and discussion among Hawaiʻi residents and visitors alike.” In support of the artifacts’ return, Hawaiian Airlines will transport the feathered cape and helmet aboard a flight marking the carrier’s third anniversary of its route between Auckland, New Zealand, and Honolulu, Hawai‘i on March 13. It will be returning home to the Hawaiian archipelago at that same time of the year 237 years later at a time when Native Hawaiians are making strides in the health and well-being of their people“The ‘Ahu ‘ula and Mahiole are priceless works of artistry, made with skilled hands and imbued with aloha befitting that of Kalani‘ōpu‘u. Hawaiian Airlines is privileged to serve as the carrier to return these chiefly possessions back to the people of Hawai’i,” said Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, community relations director at Hawaiian Airlines. The ʻahu ʻula and mahiole of Kalaniʻōpuʻu will then be on long-term loan from Te Papa Tongarewa for at least 10-years. To receive the ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole, a private ceremony – Ka Ho‘i ‘Ana o Nā Wehi Makamae o Hawai‘i: the return of the cloak and helmet of ali‘i nui Kalani‘ōpu‘u – will be held on March 17. The ʻahu ʻula and mahiole of Kalaniʻōpuʻu will be exhibited to the public at Bishop Museum on the island of O‘ahu starting on March 19. “Bishop Museum is honored to be the institution charged with the care of these cultural treasures and to be the recipient of these mea makamae (treasures) from Te Papa Tongarewa,” said Blair D. Collis, president & CEO of Bishop Museum. “The exhibit space at Bishop Museum will be called ‘He Nae Ākea: Bound Together.’ This reflects the connection of Kalaniʻōpuʻu to his land and people, the connection between the peoples, nations, and cultures throughout the centuries who have cared for these treasures, as well as the connection between the three institutions directly involved in this loan. It is only as a result of all of these ties that we have arrived where we are today.”

“These priceless treasures have so much to tell us about our shared Pacific history. We are honored to be able to return them home, to reconnect them with their land and their people,” said Arapata Hakiwai, Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) of Te Papa Tongarewa. “Woven into these taonga (treasures) is the story of our Pacific history, with all its beauty, challenges and complexity. When I see these treasures, I’m reminded about the whakatauki or proverb used during the highly successful international exhibition ‘Te Māori’ – ‘He Toi Whakairo, He Mana Tangata’: ‘Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity.’”

“The ʻahu ʻula and mahiole left their homeland at the end of the season of Lono in 1779 and the memory they hold in their very fiber is that of a healthy, abundant, sovereign society,” said Mehanaokalā Hind, director of community engagement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and a lineal descendant of Kalani‘ōpu‘u. “They will be returning home to the Hawaiian archipelago in that same season of the year 237 years later, at a time when Native Hawaiians are making strides in the health and well-being of their people. They will serve as a physical reminder to help guide Native Hawaiians in their pursuit of a thriving society.”

View a collection of social media posts from Hawaiʻi and Aotearoa documenting the historic return of the Royal Cloak & Helmet of Kalani‘ōpu‘u.


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Office of Hawaiian Affairs Bishop Museum Te Papa Hawaiian Airlines

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