Feather Cloak, Helmet Gifted to Captain Cook Return Home Permanently

July 8, 2020, 1:47 PM HST (Updated July 8, 2020, 1:47 PM)
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The ʻahu ʻula (feather cloak) and mahiole (feather helmet) on display in Bishop Museum’s Hawaiian Hall. (PC: Bishop Museum)

An ʻahu ʻula (feather cloak) and mahiole (feather helmet), gifted to Captain James Cook in 1779, are being permanently returned to Hawaiʻi by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, after more than a century in its care.

These items were gifts from Hawaiian Chief Kalani‘ōpu‘u to Cook and have been in Te Papa’s collection since being gifted to the museum in 1912.

In March 2016, the items returned to Hawaiʻi to Bishop Museum in Honolulu on long-term loan. Today it was confirmed that the ‘ahu ʻula and mahiole will remain in Hawaiʻi in perpetuity, being held in trust for the people of Hawai‘i by Bishop Museum.

This historic repatriation is the result of a close partnership between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. It is also supported by the descendants of Lord St Oswald, who donated the items to New Zealand’s Dominion Museum in 1912.

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“These priceless treasures have so much to tell us about our shared Pacific history. We are honoured 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.

For nearly 250 years, OHA Ka Pouhana (Chief Executive Officer) Sylvia Hussey, said these cultural treasures have been abroad, illustrating the amazing story of Hawai‘i’s kūpuna and their outstanding craftsmanship.

“We were honored to be part of the effort to permanently return these beloved items home, where they will continue to inspire future generations of Native Hawaiians,” Hussey added. “We extend a warm mahalo to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Bishop Museum, former OHA CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, and all of those, past and present, who made this possible.”

Melanie Y. Ide, President and CEO, Bishop Museum said she is humbled to accept the kuleana of caring for these precious artifacts.

“With their extraordinary presence, they give the people of Hawai‘i a tangible connection to the past, and to ancestors whose mana remain strongly rooted,” Ide said. “The impact of this gift will be felt for generations, and we will honor Te Papa’s inspirational act of leadership and generosity with our commitment to strengthen the kinship between our peoples and institutions.

Ide offered her deepest gratitude to the people Aotearoa, and looks forward to all the two cultures will do together as a Pacific community.”

“Woven into these taonga is the story of our Pacific history, with all its beauty, challenges and complexity,” Ide added. “When I see these treasures, I’m reminded about the whakatauki or proverb–‘He Toi Whakairo, He Mana Tangata’: ‘Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity.’”

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