“Centuries ago, when the rest of the world went to battle in iron clothing, the great seven-foot warriors of Hawaii donned gay war capes, fashioned of thousands of colorful feathers.”
“The principal colors used were red and yellow. The more yellow, the higher the rank of the wearer. … The first kings maintained a corps of trained ‘birdmen’ who lived in the forests and hunted these creatures.”
“They learned to imitate the call of the male and thus lure the birds close to their hiding place where they previously ‘doctored’ a flower particularly delectable to the bird they wished to catch.”
“Then they waited until the bird thrust his bill into the flower … Then the birdmen carefully removed the desired feathers and released the bird.” (Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1929)
Hawaiian featherwork consists of leis (or strings of feathers worn in the hair or around the neck,) kāhili (plumes of feathers used as royal insignia,) ahuʻula (cloaks or capes,) mahiole (helmets,) images of the god Kūkaʻilimoku (war god of Kamehameha,) or mat-like objects and other temple objects.) (Brigham)
The ‘ahuʻula (cloak or cape) was durable and comparatively small in bulk. Olonā (a fiber) was universally the basis of the Hawaiian feather capes. The Hawaiian had not looms, so a fiber net was formed as the foundation of the cape.
It was a common custom to net bands of a width from 8 to 12 inches and this was cut and joined. Regular and irregular pieces were put together to form the cape. (Brigham)
Hawaiian feather capes and cloaks were constructed by tying bundles of small feathers, usually 6-10 per bundle, to a foundation of netting. The ‘ahu‘ula of Kamehameha consists of approximately 450,000 feathers. (Bishop Museum)
To fasten feathers to this net much finer thread, often single fibers, was used and the feather was bound by 2 or 3 turns of the thread on the shaft of the feather. On the reverse, the feather did not show.
As in medieval Europe the vanquished knight was despoiled of his armor by the victor, so the chief who killed or captured his enemy took as spoils his feather cloak, helmet or lei. Generous Hawaiian chiefs often gave ‘ahuʻula as token of their friendship. (Brigham)
During the British warship Calypso’s three-and-a-half-month stay in Hawai‘i beginning on Oct. 2, 1858, its surgeon, WH Sloggett, was presented with a royal feather shoulder cape by King Kamehameha IV in gratitude for medical service he’d rendered the seriously ill King. (Soboleski)
“Sir Arthur Sloggett, surgeon-general of the British Expeditionary Forces during the World War, has presented, through a nephew who resides in the islands, the cape of Kamehameha IV, given to Sloggett’s great grandfather by the monarch.” (Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1929)
On occasion, the ship would carry King Kamehameha IV and his retinue to Hawai‘i Island. Taking advantage of the presence of the surgeon, the King requested an examination by Sloggett.
Sloggett declined to accept a fee. He felt he already was paid by the Navy so he didn’t need to be paid by the King for doing his job. (Faye)
However, as a gift Kamehameha IV delivered to the Calypso on its departure an ‘ahuʻula (red and yellow feather cape.) He hung it at his home in England. The King also gave him a small portrait of Queen Emma. (Faye, KauaiGold)
The Sloggett cape measures 15.5 inches in depth, 33 inches across at its widest width, and is made of the yellow and black feathers of the ‘o‘o (a now extinct black bird with one yellow feather indigenous to Hawai‘i), with yellow used as the background and black as ornamentation.
‘I‘iwi (a scarlet honeycreeper also indigenous to Hawai‘i) feathers also appear as ornamentation, while a network of olona fiber, intricately knotted, forms the foundation. The cape’s outside surface gleams like satin and its texture is as smooth as velvet.
Dr. Sloggett took the cape home to England, where he framed and hung it upon a wall in his house. Then in 1926, his son, Sir Arthur Sloggett, removed it from the drawing-room wall of his home in England and gave it to his nephew, Grove Farm Plantation director Henry Digby Sloggett, who returned it to Hawai‘i.
Henry Digby Sloggett passed the cape on to his son, Richard Henry Sloggett Sr, and for a time it was on loan to Honolulu’s Bishop Museum. The Sloggett cape can now be seen in the Kaua‘i Museum. (Soboleski) (Lots of information here is from Chris Faye and Kauai Museum. The image shows the Kamehameha IV ahuʻula given to Sloggett. (Faye – Kauai Museum))