Skip Navigation

Necklace (Lei Niho Palaoa)

Arts of the Pacific Islands

The lei niho palaoa, made of braided human hair and the ivory teeth of beached whales, was an important symbol worn by the Hawai'ian nobility to indicate their genealogical descent from the gods. After the conversion of most Hawai'ians to Christianity in the mid-nineteenth century, such necklaces continued to indicate social status but lost much of their previous spiritual symbolism.

This necklace is one of many Polynesian objects picked up by early travelers possessing little or no understanding of the items' original context or function. An unknown collector incorrectly identified the object as a "Sorcerer's Necklace from Tahiti," and this misidentification has become part of its history.

CULTURE Hawaiian
MEDIUM Human hair, sperm whale tooth, fiber, pigment
DATES early 19th century
DIMENSIONS 14 x 7 x 2 1/2 in. (35.6 x 17.8 x 6.4 cm)  (show scale)
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Neck ornament composed of bundles of human hair that have been twisted into fine threads and tied at ends. Suspended from the center is a hook-shaped pendant made from whale tooth ivory. Incised on the pendant is inscription: "Sorcerer's necklace from Tahiti." Note: This type of ornament is Hawaiian, not Tahitian and is worn by people of royal rank. Condition: Good; hair is brittle, hook-shaped pendant is nicked on edges, ends of cord are fraying
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Hawaiian. Necklace (Lei Niho Palaoa), early 19th century. Human hair, sperm whale tooth, fiber, pigment, 14 x 7 x 2 1/2 in. (35.6 x 17.8 x 6.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection, X839.3. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, X839.3.jpg)
IMAGE overall, X839.3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.