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Hawaiian Helmet

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Dated: 1750-1800

Cultural Context: Polynesian style

Origin: Hawaiian Islands (United States, North America)

Medium: Vegetable fibre, Feathers

Technique: Spiral corded, Knotted

Dimensions: Height = 44 cm; Width = 15 cm; Depth = 38 cm

Inventory no.: 13561

Helmet made of plant fibre corded in a spiral, with a notch for the ears and a large semi-circular openwork crest running from the forehead to the nape of the neck. Remains of feathers are still knotted to the plant fibre structure.

In Polynesian societies, the head is one of the sacred areas of the body, and these helmets were part of the war dress of the highest-ranking people in Hawaiian society. Such helmets could have very complex shapes, although they were always made of vegetable fibre. In some cases, they were covered with feathers of different colours, especially red, the symbol of Ku, the god of war. The design of this piece repeats the crescent shape found on cloaks or capelets.

According to Cook's diary, these helmets were worn in conjunction with the cloaks or capelets and, like them, were covered with delicate mamo feathers.