Aloha Authentic: The role feathers played in ancient Hawaiʻi

Aloha Authentic

HONOLULU (KHON2) — KHON2’s weekly “Aloha Authentic” segment highlights various roadways across the pae ʻāina so the meaning of their names can be uncovered.

It is time to bring attention to a street that carries the same name as what some consider the most intricate artwork in Hawaiʻi.

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In the ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī, which lies in the moku of Kona here on Oʻahu, stands a roadway that is named after something very light, yet holds heavy meaning.  

That street is Hulu Pl.

In the Hawaiian language, the word hulu can be translated as “feather or quill.”  

In ancient Hawaiʻi, one thing that was entwined into everyday life was the use of feathers within items.  

From ʻahu ʻula (capes) to mahiole (helmets) to kāhili (standards) to lei hulu (feather lei), these items were reserved only for royalty.

Because birds flew the highest in the sky and closest to their gods, their feathers became symbols of high prestige.

Expert bird catchers, known as kia manu, would catch birds using a sappy substance, pluck only a few feathers, and then let them go to reproduce.

But when the missionaries arrived in the islands in 1820, the need and acceptance of feathered items dwindled.

Even though featherwork never fully disappeared, its presence faded.  

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Since then, this delicate artform has been revitalized within our communities, once again being prominent in ceremonies, art, and for some, everyday life.

Did you know? Now you do!

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