Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hawaiian hair leis

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I visited the Kaua'i Museum and discovered again the power of hair, existent historically in so many different cultures. For the people on the island of Kaua'i, a person's hair, as well as bone and nail clippings, were carefully guarded as they were believed to carry a person's spirit, or mana.

The Kaua'i people made leis out of hair, called lei niho palaoa, described in the museum exhibit thus:

This lei worn by men and women of high rank consisted of up to 1,000 strands of plaited (braided with 8 hairs) human hair from which hung a pendant carved in the shape of the tongue of the god Ku. It signifies the wearer speaks with authority.
The interpretive plaque went on to explain the talisman-like significance of the lei niho palaoa.
The hair of a highly regarded person was often used to create the strands of plaited human hair (this included hair from enemy warriors that were highly respected). The men would wear the lei niho palaoa into battle as protection.
While the pendant pictured here is carved of whale ivory, other pendants were made of pearl shell, wood, or stone.