Moa Symbolism in the 'Ahu'ula and the Mahi'ole: A Theoretical Linguistic Approach

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2014-09-26
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Kapeliela, Ross
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Johnson, Rubellite
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Hawaiian Studies
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
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The magnificent featherwork of the ancient Hawaiians remains unrivaled in beauty and intricacy in the Polynesian world. No doubt, the superior craftsmanship of the ancients is readily evident in rare collections housed in museums all over the world. Of the various feathered articles mentioned in the journals of early western explorers to the islands, perhaps the mahi'ole helmet and the 'ahu'ula cloak stood out foremost in their recollections of the islands. These were the most visible examples of featherwork in the Hawaiian Islands at the time of western contact in 1778. They remain, to this day, the prime examples of ancient Hawaiian featherwork. In the past and up to the present, there have been and there are those who are skilled in reproducing much of this treasured art. However, despite the current revival and perpetuation of this art form, it is highly doubtful whether the true symbolic meanings of the objects survived the centuries of change from the days of the earliest ancestors. One cannot be certain that even the ancients remembered the significance of what they inherited from their kupuna (ancestors) due to the extreme antiquity of their inheritance.
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67 pages
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