Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Elizabeth Nunan and Aimée Ducey


Feather capes and cloaks of the ali`i communicate the history of the Hawaiian people through their presence in museum collections around the world. The collection of thirteen of these textile garments at the Bishop Museum attests to the legacy of the museum’s founders: the desire of the descendants of the ali`i to preserve their heritage so that future generations may continue to learn about Native Hawaiian culture, its history and values. As such, the ahu`ula are central to the narratives describing that history and serve as signifiers of its values. From the life of the original owner, to later use as a trade item during the colonial period, each cloak or cape has its own biography that serves as a metaphor for the parallel history lived by Hawaiian people. From the study of their materials (feathers and cordage) to the stabilization of damage and preparation of non-destructive mounting techniques, conservation plays a key role in ensuring that the garments are accessible to the public and remain legible archetypes of a living culture.