Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine: A Hawaiian Noble Woman Comes of Age - Clothing

"'Ahu 'Ula Feather Cape", 'Ahu 'Ula Feather Cape, Honolulu Museum of Art, Public Domain.

Before the Hawaiian Islands were accidentally located by Captain Cook, clothing, as in most cultures, was different in Hawai'i depending on one's social status.  Afterward clothing became almost bizarre for a generation or two.  The Kanakas love of color and flair for exuberance made experimenting with all the new things they saw the order of the day.

The maka'ainana [commoner], wore nothing but a malo (loin cloth) as he waded his flooded kalo (taro) field.  If working on the slopes tending sweet potato patches, he might wear a kehei, a tunic formed by a rectangular piece of kapa [bark cloth] wrapped under one arm and knotted on the opposite shoulder.  If in the upper valley where showers were frequent, then he would add a cape of a dozen or so ti (2) leaves and a hood from the wide leaf of any handy plant.  When working in particularly rocky soil or when called to be a soldier, he would don sandals woven from lau hala (leaves of the hala tree).  These sandals were simply a sole with tie thongs and would have to be replaced often if they were used for very long.

The Kanaka farmer and fisher wife also wore the kehei and usually a simple very short pa'u (skirt) of kapa.  When indoors or when it was too warm for the kehei, she wore nothing but the pa'u.  Depictions of carefully placed lei (garlands) to cover her breasts were nods to puritanical concerns and not something of everyday wear.  Kapa shawls were clasped on in the chill of the evening or during the rainy makahiki (harvest) months.  Her pa'u probably got longer then and she wore a kehei and perhaps a kapa shawl over that.  Western hats were unknown prior to contact but became common to both sexes afterward. 

According to drawings made by the first European visitors, the garb of the ali'i was little different in kind, but true to form, more elaborate in decor, color, size and add-ons for effect. Casual dress for ali'i wahine appears to have been a long pa'u [skirt] and lei poe [head garland]. The only other adornment was body kakau [tattoos]. On formal occasions, she wore the single sheet kapa kehei died to ohana colors and elaborately decorated along all edges with religious, ohana and totemic symbols.

Throughout Lehua's story, her kehei and pa'u are of her ohana colors and short and open enough to allow for her hula instruction and activity on the escape raft.  Only when she is thrust back into a ceremonial role does her basic clothing become more decorated with specifics to her regal ohana and her relation to the king.

Ali'i kane [chiefs] wore malo, long kehei dyed in the ohana (family) color and embellished with symbols, and topped with a very short kehei of perhaps a god's color and gathered in front.

On ceremonial occasions or when leading troops, an ali'i would wear in addition a short cape made of thousands of small yellow and red bird feathers, or perhaps if he were an ali'i nui (ruling chief) a full length cape of thousands of feathers.  On such days, he would also wear a feathered helmet of huge proportions so that he could be seen above the heads of his competitors and his warriors.  His legs, torso, and even his face would be adorned with sacred, genealogical, and perhaps whimsical tattoos.

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Author: Parola, Gene 8stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 13, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"Clothing" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 13, 2015. Sep 25, 2018.
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