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Hawaiian "lei niho palaoa" neck ornament with a large, carved ivory pendant attached to many strands made from tightly braided human hair. Worn only by men and women of the elite class - ali'i - lei niho palaoa were potent symbols of status and sacred power.\n
ivory (tooth component)
"Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England": 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.
Note on index card: "Hawaiian Necklace - Palaoa, 191 strands (underlined)/ 'Niho Palaoa' or a necklace of human hair/ These ''palaoas'' carved whale ivory and/ mounted as this one on a necklace of/ braided human hair of many strands/ were a sort of insignia of the cheifs and/ always worn. Ones as large as this are/ very rare and rarely found perfect as/ they break easily if dropped./ Brought from Honolulu before 1830./ From the Reynolds collection 1917." (Two notes, one on brown paper wrapping, black ink, one on wihite lined index card.)
Note on brown paper: "HAWAIIAN/ NIHOA PALOA/ or Necklace/ Very Rare/ SW Phillips" (handwritten)
Original to Phillips House (Salem, Mass.),
Title Pendant Accession Number 2006.44.1454
Pacific Island Group
8 1/8 x 1 7/8 (HxW) (inches)
Gift of the Stephen Phillips Memorial Charitable Trust for Historic Preservation
Volume 9, No. 1
ca. 1830 (or earlier)
Hawaii (United States)