Hook Pendant, niho palaoa, Hawaiian Islands
length 2 1/2in (6.4cm)
probably whale ivory, the upright shank with transverse suspension hole, the hook bend curving back from it an obtuse angle; fine honey brown patina.
Worn by both men and women of high social status, the lei niho palaoa was the most valuable of chiefly adornments, inferior in symbolic value only to the feather capes and cloaks which were reserved for the Hawaiian aristocracy, Wardwell (1994: 240). Roger G. Rose notes, "Early versions of the Hawaiian hook pendant exist in coral, shell, calcite and other substances, but the preferred material was whale ivory. The scarce resource was obtained from the teeth, niho, of beached sperm whales, palaoa, which were claimed by chiefs on whose beaches they occasionally foundered. As Hawaiians ventured into colder northern waters on whaling vessels in the late 18th century, they encountered the walrus, adding its previously unknown tusks to their scant reserves of whale ivory. With more dependable sources of raw material, the small pendants that averaged no more than two or three inches long soon developed into the larger version familiar today." (1980: 196)