The Feathered Skirt of Princess Nāhi‘ena‘ena

Feb 5, 2015

Credit Honolulu Museum of Art
Artist rendering of the original pā‘ū.
Credit Bishop Museum Archives

  

King Kalākaua lying in state, with the pā‘ū of Nāhi‘ena‘ena draped over his casket.
Credit Bishop Museum Archives

  Hawaiian history buffs will have one last chance to view a beautiful artifact with a tragic history.

The pā‘ū or skirt of Princess Nāhi‘ena‘ena will be taken off display for preservation at the Bishop Museum.  Nāhi‘ena‘ena was the only daughter of Kamehameha I and Keōpūolani.  The skirt’s construction represented her sacred status as well as her role to give birth to the next great chief.  That expectation was never fulfilled, as she died childless at 21.  Historians say her grief stricken brother ordered the skirt to be re-sewn into the funeral blanket that covered the caskets of her family as they passed away.  

The skirt is the largest piece of Hawaiian feather work ever made, containing one-million yellow, orange, and black feathers plucked from the extinct ‘ō‘ō bird. Desoto Brown is a historian and archivist with the Bishop Museum. 

   The feathered skirt of Nāhi‘ena‘ena will be on display throughout the weekend in the main hall of the Bishop Museum.

The complete interview with Desoto Brown 

A great article by UH Professor John Charlot.