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Pieces of the Past: BYUH Archives houses many Hawaiian artifacts including a stick made for nobility and a weapon made of shark’s teeth

Hawaiian artifacts that are in the BYUH Archive include 1. a feathered kāhili that has a number of feathers, either from chickens or other birds, that were woven or sewn together and put onto a stick to indicate that a chief or chiefess was coming. 2. The pandanus basket, made from the leaves of the pandanus tree, was a common basket used to carry material for everyday use. 3. A nose flute or air instrument made from bamboo that would be held up to the player’s nose. There are also three finger holes that would change the pitch of the note.

BYU–Hawaii faculty members said learning about the history of the Hawaiian artifacts housed in the school Archives helps people understand the complexities of Hawaiian culture. They affirmed each artifact has its own unique purpose that contributes to Hawaiian history.

The McGuire Collection

Brooks Haderlie, the University archivist, said most of the archives BYUH has and preserves are from the McGuire Collection. Out of about 1,500 total artifacts, most of them are Hawaiian and were donated in behalf of James W.L. McGuire, he clarified. Haderlie explained McGuire was born in Kona on the Big Island and his mother was a direct descendant of King Kamehameha the Great and was considered a minor chief, or minor ali’i, due to that ancestry.

Haderlie added, because of McGuire’s ancestry, he was an attendant to Queen Kapiolani and Queen Liliouokalani. As their attendant, he was able to accumulate artifacts of cultural significance to Hawaiians all across Hawaii, he said. The Honolulu Star Bulletin published a piece on McGuire and through that article, Haderlie said he was able to learn the history behind the collection and the man who preserved it.

Haderlie said McGuire joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1921. When he passed away in 1941, he wrote in his will that all the artifacts he owned would be donated to the Church. After being given to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the artifacts were given to the Church College of Hawaii in order to properly care for and preserve the artifacts, Haderlie said.

Kamoa’e Walk, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, said, “Over the years, these artifacts have been accessed by a good number of people, either scholarly or ... [by those who] have connections to them genealogically.”

The feathered kāhili

The feathered kāhili, Haderlie explained, was made by collecting a number of feathers, either from chickens or other birds, that were woven or sewn together and put onto a stick to indicate that a chief or chiefess was coming. He said the plumage on the kāhili was an indicator of rank or status of the individual based on the rarity of the feather. Walk stated, “[A kāhili] is a feathered standard that has a functional purpose, like moving away bugs around the chief, but they are also a representation of their status as a royal.”

Walk said kāhili can be different sizes, some reaching 10 feet tall, adding that the short kāhili would be made for the ali’i, or chief.

Nose flute

Haderlie shared the early Hawaiians didn’t have a lot of musical instruments other than drums made from gourds and one-string instruments. He said there is a misconception that the ukulele originated in Hawaii and clarified it was introduced by the Portuguese when they came to the island.

The nose flute, he said, was an air instrument made from bamboo that would be held up to the player’s nose. There are also three finger holes that would change the pitch of the note.

Haderlie said string or wind instruments were only used to make sounds or music, while percussion instruments were used in hula.

Pandanus basket

The pandanus basket, made from the leaves of the pandanus tree, was a common basket used to carry material for everyday use, Haderlie shared. The leaves were carefully woven together to create the latch, strap and basket to form the beautifully woven purse, he added. Haderlie said the condition of the basket is wonderful, considering it is around 100 years old.

Three Hawaiian artifacts at the BYUH Archives are: 1. A kapa pounder that is a long, squared off piece of wood with grooves on each side and then tapered on one end to make a handle. It was used to make pounded kapa for clothes, blankets or mats. 2. A turtle bone scraper used to get to the core of the mulberry tree. The bone of a turtle was smoothed out on one side by volcanic stone to get past the outer bark of the mulberry tree. 3 A wooden poi pounding platter carved and shaped in order to make poi.


Turtle bone scraper and the kapa pounder

Haderlie said another interesting artifact is the turtle bone scraper, used to get to the core of the mulberry tree. He said the bone of a turtle was smoothed out on one side by volcanic stone to get past the outer bark of the mulberry tree.

Haderlie stated the core of the mulberry tree is very pliable and would be made into kapa cloths. He said the kapa pounder would then be used to make the clothes, blankets or mats. Hawaiians would take the inside of the mulberry tree and use the kapa pounder to flatten the piece together into a large cloth. He shared the women would use the kapa pounder, which had ridges on each side, to add designs like a stamp or watermark on each blanket.

Poi pounding platter

Walk said the wooden poi pounding platter was carved and shaped in order to make poi. He added poi was a staple food for Hawaiians and was eaten at every meal, and they would make several hundred pounds of poi every week. He shared they would make enough to feed their entire family, which was multigenerational.

Walk said poi making was a communal effort and would be done mostly by men, adding when they came of age, every young man would learn the art of making poi. Walk said pounding the poi helps preserve it and allows it to ferment, bringing out its preferred sour taste.

“There is a multilevel resurgence of learning about cultural things that were deemed backwards and a good number of Hawaiians who are realizing this is a good practice on personal, cultural and nutritional levels.” He said going through the process of physically pounding out the poi, rather than buying it from a store, has obvious health benefits because it hasn’t been processed through a machine.

Hawaiian artifacts from the BYUH Archives include: 1. Coconut cup where the white coconut meat is carved out and only the half shell remains. 2. A shell lei that would have been worn by someone of great importance that has small shells woven together to create a lei with a large shell positioned like a pendant at the bottom of the lei. 3. A lei o mano, or sharks teeth that could be worn on the knuckles. It has three loops of cord that you would put your fingers through and the shark teeth would rest in your palm.

Coconut cup

Haderlie said the coconut was an important part of Hawaiian culture because every part of it was used. The shell of the coconut was used as a cup to either hold poi, drink water or act as a scraper, he shared.

Shell lei and large decorative shell

Haderlie held up a shell lei that would have been worn by someone of great importance. Walk said shell leis were made in different styles and usually had a woven core where the shells would be sewn into. He said this would have been laborious and tedious work that required a lot of patience from the artisan.

He stated the shells would be hand punctured in the exact same spot to make the small holes for the cord to be strung through and then laid perfectly in line with the ones before it. Walk said, “Royalty was able to retain the artisans to make these kinds of ornate things for them.” He asserted it would take an artisan around 200 hours to gather materials, poke the holes and then make the lei.

Haderlie said the large shell could have been worn by a kupuna because of its size and the small hole in the center of the shell. However, according to Walk, the large decorative shell could have simply been a decorative piece. Haderlie stated there wasn’t a lot of information about the artifact, but said the shell was customized to expose the mother pearl underneath and noted the edge of the shell was scalloped.

Lei o mano

Haderlie asserted one of the most interesting artifacts was a lei o mano, shark teeth that could be worn on the knuckles. He explained, “It has three loops of cord that you would put your fingers through and the shark teeth would rest in your palm.”

The lei o mano would be concealed to the opponent and they would come up behind them and slash their opponent across the stomach to disembowel them, he stated. This artifact was one of the many weapons that were made with shark teeth to either use in battle or in personal arguments.