Collect: Lei Niho Palaoa
Lei Niho Palaoa neck ornament
Hawaii, before 1830
Human hair, ivory, fiber
Gift of the Stephen Phillips Memorial Charitable Trust for Historic Preservation
Only men and women of the nobility (ali’i) would have worn this neck ornament (lei niho palaoa). According to Stephen Willard Phillips, the ornament was originally acquired before 1830 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Phillips, born on Oahu and a devoted collector of Hawaiian material culture, acquired this example from a collector in 1917.
Each of the two sections of the lei is made from braided human hair. According to traditional Hawaiian belief, mana, sacred power based on one’s ancestral lineage, is seated in the head. This ornament made from hair would have conferred that power to its wearer.