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Monday, January 23, 2012

Fit for a Queen

A kahili, or royal feather standard, will be presented at Queen Emma Summer Palace in Nuuanu

By Nina Wu, Honolulu Star Advertiser


A traditionally made kahili will be presented to the Daughters of Hawai‘i at Queen Emma Summer Palace January 2 on the queen's 176th birthday.
The feather standard, dubbed Kahili Hanaiakamalama after the name of the palace grounds in Nuuanu, will be presented at noon in a procession, accompanied by an original chant and surrounded by 15 other kahili.
It will be on permanent display near the grand piano in Queen Emma's parlor.
Daughters of Hawai‘i member and former regent Gerry Miyamoto says it's particularly symbolic for the presentation of this new kahili — an endeavor to re-create a forgotten Native Hawaiian practice — to be held on the birthday of Queen Emma, who lived from 1836 to 1885 and was royal consort to Kamehameha IV.
"The new kahili is a symbol, a visual form of the project to give the community a better understanding of this ancient part of the Hawaiian culture," she said.
The presentation will occur during a daylong open house at the palace, which is owned and maintained by the Daughters. The free event will include a birthday cake, refreshments and a performance by the Queen Emma Summer Palace ‘Ukulele Club.
While most kahili nowadays are made from feathers flown in from a distributor in New York, this one was made from the feathers of Hawaiian birds.
To be more precise, they were hand-plucked from Laysan albatrosses, known as moli in Hawaiian, that shed their plumes or died naturally during the summer nesting season on Midway in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"We were trying to accomplish what was done in ancient Hawaii, but in the 21st century," said Miyamoto. "We did the best we could with the information we had."
Miyamoto said the gathering of feathers for a kahili, a symbol of royalty, has not been done since pre-contact times. It all started when she was overseeing a project to clean and refurbish about 20 kahili the Daughters of Hawai‘i had purchased from Bishop Museum in 1936. The standards were part of a larger acquisition of 58 kahili that once belonged to Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last monarch. Experts at the time of the purchase did not believe the kahili held much value.
"Our thoughts are that these kahili are priceless because they belonged to the queen," said Miyamoto.
She contacted master kahili maker Shad Kane, and as they talked about the tradition, they were inspired to try to re-create the ancient practice of feather-gathering using Hawaiian protocol.
After applying for a $25,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a team of five, including Kane and Miyamoto, flew to Midway to gather the feathers for a week last summer.
Kane made the new kahili with the albatross feathers and mounted it on a koa stick. They recorded their experiences, and a video will be made to share with others.
While they originally planned to gather the tail feathers of koae ula and koae kea (red- and white-tailed tropic birds), they were given a permit instead for the Laysan albatross due to that species' higher numbers.
The kinds of feathers chosen have symbolic meaning, according to Kane, based on altitudes the birds reach in flight and distances they travel. It was thought that the higher the birds soared, the closer they were to the realm of the gods. Seabirds were held in high esteem.
The presentation of the new kahili will be an homage as well to generations of feather workers, with the 15 other kahili representing their legacy.
Since there is no written record of a chant for kahili presentations, Kahu Kalama Cabigon composed an original oli with appropriate prayers for today's presentation.
"We've lost so much of the past," said Kane. "As contemporary Hawaiians, that should not stop us from making decisions in an effort to get back as much of the past as we can. The whole effort is to get our children to understand it's not completely lost."


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