Rare Necklace, Hawaiian Islands
lei niho palaoa
Whale ivory, fiber, human hair
overall length 9 3/4in (24.8cm); length of pendant 2 3/4in (7cm)
Together with an old black and white label depicting a lei niho palaoa with writing on reverse in old script: "Necklace of human hair, with curious shaped bone ornament. Brought from the Sandwich Islands by Mrs. D. James. She said they were very rare when she left there, they were so much sought after by all foreigners. The price then was $20.00"
Private Collection, East Coast
Composed of multiple finely braided strands of human hair threaded through a marine ivory hook of large proportions and pierced for attachment; the pendant with rich, creamy, honey-brown patina.
For a discussion of the lei niho palaoa, see Cox & Davenport, page 41: "Of all the specialized forms invented by Polynesian sculptors, the curving tongue shape in the aumakua images of Hawaii is the most striking and significant abstraction. In its ultimate abstract shape, it is translated into the whaletooth ornament, lei niho palaoa. The form occurs in several variations on the head crests of images, drum base designs, helmets and as a two-dimensional pattern on the feather capes and cloaks. A number of meanings might easily be applied to it as a pure symbol. It is well known that the lei niho palaoa was a badge of rank, its use strictly limited to the ali'i Malo names the lei palaoa as the object of second greatest value in ancient Hawaii, second only to the feather capes and cloaks (1951:77)."