Kalaniʻōpuʻu Feather Cloak and Helmet Permanently Return to Hawaiʻi

Jul 10, 2020

A royal Hawaiian feather cloak and helmet given to Captain James Cook in 1779 are being permanently returned to Hawaiʻi. The items were temporarily on loan to the Bishop Museum with plans to return them to New Zealand, where they have been housed for more than a century.

These chiefly treasures were originally owned by Big Island Chief Kalani ōpuʻu, who presented them to Captain Cook.

Noelle Kahanu of the University of Hawaii at Mānoaʻs American Studies Department says these items are some of the few from the first contact between Native Hawaiians and the western world.

"Kalaniʻōpuʻu takes his own cloak off his shoulders and puts it on Cook. He takes his own mahi ole off his head and puts in on Cook. You don't get anymore mana-filled than that," says Kahanu. "The fact that he chose to gift them to these strangers who just showed up and allowed them to leave beyond the horizon. And then to have them circle the globe and then after a century and a half to return. That is why this is epic."

Kahanu says the rare action by New Zealand's Te Papa O Tongarewa national museum is part of a global conversation about museums returning cultural items to their communities of origin.