Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i

Laurie says:

I just saw an exhibition of Hawaiian feather art at the De Young Museum here in San Francisco. Every civilization has a characteristic great art; this . This exhibition has both a stunning aesthetic and remarkable and painstaking craft technique. Much of the work is associated with King Kamehameha and his descendants.

The designs are simple and powerful and the feather work is complex and subtle. The combination is riveting. (Be sure to click on the images to see the detail.)

I spent a lot of time going from one magnificent piece to another. I took these photos at the end. I find that taking photographs removes the immediacy of my reaction to work, so I like to wait til I’ve seen everything as much as I want.


‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak) – 19th century associated with Kamehameha

Quotes are from the Museum exhibit labels:
Handcrafted of plant fiber and rare feathers from endemic birds of the islands, the cloaks (‘ahu‘ula) and capes provided spiritual protection to Hawaiian chiefs, proclaiming their identity and status. The abstract patterns and compositions of royal feathers (nā hulu ali‘i) are both beautiful and full of cultural meaning. While the arrangements of their forms—crescents, triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and lines—and fields of color appear contemporary, they are ancient. Symbols of the power and status of Hawai‘i’s monarchs at home and abroad, these vibrantly colored treasures of the Hawaiian people endure today as masterpieces of unparalleled artistry, technical skill, and cultural pride.


lei0482Lei – 19th century

…the exhibition will features approximately 75 rare and stunning examples of the finest featherwork capes and cloaks in existence, as well as royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu manu), helmets (mahiole), feathered god images (akua hulu manu), and related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and works on paper.



‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak)  18th century

The feathers in this exquisite work come from local island birds, several species of which are now either extinct or endangered because of the collection for the art. The exhibition includes some specimens of the birds from the Natural History Museum. They did not photograph well.

These photographs show some beautiful detail work from a more modern cape.


feather close_0498

Red ‘i’iwi feathers and yellow ‘o’o feathers (should be -‘s over the o’s)

Hawaiian feather capes and cloaks were constructed by tying bundles of small feathers, usually 6-10 per bundle, to a foundation of netting. This netting was made from an endemic plant that produced one of the strongest fibers in the world, olonā (Touchardia latifolia). This olonā foundation could range from a very fine netting to a more coarsely woven foundation that would hold the feathers. Tens of thousands of feather bundles were connected, creating a visually striking garment. These capes and cloaks were important signifiers of rank, and as noble regalia, they were to be worn only by the ali‘i nui. Red, as a traditional color of royalty in Polynesia, was a dominant color. Yellow, made valuable by its scarcity, was also oft used.

The exhibition runs til February 28, 2016.  If you’re in the Bay Area go – the work is rarely shown outside of Hawaii.

Bogus Science, Outright Lies, and the Social Control of Mothers

Laurie and Debbie say:


If you watch TV in Brazil, you will see a series of ads that

depict a baby suckling on an unhealthy food instead of a breast.

One ad features a baby nursing on a burger, the second has an baby feeding on a doughnut, and the third has an infant nursing from a cup of soda. “Your child is what you eat,” reads the campaign’s tagline in large cursive letters across the woman’s chest. “Your habits in the first thousand days of gestation can prevent your child from developing serious diseases,” it continues.

The ads, which are outright lies, are sponsored by the Sociedad de Pediatrica de Rio Grande del Sul, so a Brazilian mother may not realize she is being lied to, and threatened.

(Parenthetically, gestation is about 270 days. If it’s a mistranslation, and they mean the first 1,000 days of life, you would still have to breastfeed until the child was three for that number to be useful. But that’s a side issue.)

More important, only a few substances are known to cross the breast milk barrier, and they don’t include sugar and fat. According to Diana West of La Leche League, the body’s milk production is designed to be relatively consistent so that the nutrients in whatever food a mother consumes go first into the milk. If there is any nutritional deficit, it will be experienced by the mother. “She’s the one that gets robbed, not the milk,” said West.

So what are the pediatricians really doing? Let’s look at another example, this one from the U.S.


… almost all public health campaigns, whether sponsored by states, social movement organizations, public health institutes, or the associations of alcohol purveyors tell pregnant women not to drink alcohol during, before, or after pregnancy… at all… or else.

If you’ve heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, this sounds like reasonable advice … until you dig into the numbers.

… only about 5% of women give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS. This means that many mothers drink excessively, and many more drink somewhat (at least 16 percent of mothers drink during pregnancy), and yet many, many children born to these women show no diagnosable signs of FAS. Twin studies, further, have shown that sometimes one fraternal twin is diagnosed with FAS, but the other twin, who shared the same uterine environment, is fine.

So, drinking during pregnancy does not appear to be a sufficient cause of FAS, even if it is a necessary cause (by definition?)

The article on mothers and alcohol goes on to quote a 12-year-old (!) book by Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility, which identifies a host of co-factors in fetal alcohol syndrome, including “poverty, malnutrition, high parity [i.e., having lots of children], and advanced maternal age.”

So, again, telling mothers that they must not drink at all during pregnancy is an outright lie. Even telling them that excessive drinking usually leads to FAS would be an outright lie.

What purpose do these lies serve?

First, like so many other things, they serve to control women. We know as feminists that when women gain power, huge efforts are immediately applied to curb that power. Just as acceptable sizes for women get smaller and smaller as women’s power gets bigger, acceptable behavior for women (in this case mothers) gets more and more constrained as more and more women take control of their lives (including their choice to have children).

Second, they prey upon the vulnerability of new mothers. Pregnant women and new mothers have long been known to be the most “compliant” population the medical profession sees. No one wants to feel like what’s wrong with her new baby is her fault, so if you tell her something she can do to prevent a possible problem, she’s very likely to take you seriously. (Isn’t “compliant” an interesting word in this context?)

Third, it continues the social trend to move “sin” away from harming others, acting violently, or other historical sinful acts and toward what we consume, what we eat and drink. It’s very convenient for the power structure if we worry more about what we put into our mouths than what they put into their pockets.

Finally, as we are learning to see everywhere, it takes the focus off the ways we as a society translate social problems into individual problems. It’s so much easier, and cheaper, and less demanding for us to tell pregnant women not to drink than for us to look at the issues of poverty and malnutrition. It’s so much more facile to tell nursing mothers not to eat fast food than it is to think about what food they have available, what choices are within their budget, and who is paying for the baby’s needs.

Shaming isn’t just cruel (though it is cruel); it’s also extremely convenient for the capitalists.