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4 / Ceremony and Society

Feathered helmet (mahiole)
Feathered helmet (mahiole)
Artist / Origin Hawaiian artist, Polynesia
Region: Oceania
Date Pre-19th century
Material Plant fiber, feather
Dimensions H: 12 ½ in. (32 cm.)
Location British Museum, London, UK
Credit © British Museum/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Anne D’AllevaAssociate Professor of Art History, University of Connecticut

Feathered helmet (mahiole)

» Hawaiian artist, Polynesia

expert perspective

Anne D’Alleva Anne D’Alleva Associate Professor of Art History, University of Connecticut

One of the art forms that people are often familiar with from the Pacific is the very spectacular featherwork from Hawaii—these beautiful feather cloaks and head dresses, feather leis, the necklaces—this very, very spectacular featherwork that people wore. And the featherwork actually is a connection to the gods, is an evocation of this relationship because birds were often thought of in relation to the gods because they fly; they move between this world and the spirit world. And so the body of the gods are often thought to be covered with bird feathers. And so when an ali’i (chief) wears a feather cloak or wears a feathered helmet, his body or her body is enveloped in feathers just like the body of a god. And there is a spirit world that is populated by the gods and by the ancestors. And they are also present in our world. They can come here, they can be with us, and they are made present and embodied here through artworks.” 

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