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Royal cape made of feathers from 20,000 birds returns to Hawaii after 237 years

Royal cape made of feathers from 20,000 birds returns to Hawaii after 237 years
An 18th-century Hawaiian royal cloak woven from feathers is now on display at Honolulu's Bishop Museum.
(Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand)

In 1779, Hawaiian high chief Kalaniopuu gave away one of his most prized garments to British explorer Capt. James Cook: a regal cloak and helmet intricately woven from feathers.

It was a gesture of goodwill after Cook's ship arrived in Kealakekua Bay, about 12 miles south of modern-day Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaii.

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This feathered helmet once owned by a Hawaii Island chief was given to British explorer Capt. James Cook. After 237, it has been returned to Hawaii.
This feathered helmet once owned by a Hawaii Island chief was given to British explorer Capt. James Cook. After 237, it has been returned to Hawaii. (Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand)

When Cook left on his travels to the South Pacific, the cloak and helmet went with him, leaving the island for 237 years.

Earlier in March, the artifacts returned home, or at least to neighboring Oahu, where they are the newest exhibit at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The items went on display March 19.

Over the years, the garments became part of the collection of the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

The Bishop Museum put the returned royal cape and helmet on display March 19.
The Bishop Museum put the returned royal cape and helmet on display March 19. (Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

The museum's chief executive, Rick Ellis, said that he was "thrilled and honored" to see the artifacts returned to their Hawaii roots and that he expects them to generate plenty of "conversations and insights."

That may be especially true among the island's indigenous residents.

To them, feather work is held in high esteem as it was crafted exclusively for royalty. Curators say such items symbolized a chief's divinity, power and rank. The gold-and-red cloak contains the features of more than 20,000 birds.

The Bishop Museum (1525 Bernice St., Honolulu) is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $22.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 4 to 12.

Info: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, (808) 847-3511

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