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.
Human hair, sperm whale tooth, fiber, pigment
early 19th century
14 x 7 x 2 1/2 in. (35.6 x 17.8 x 6.4 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Brooklyn Museum Collection
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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)
overall, X839.3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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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
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