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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, ivory, fiber
DATES early 19th century
DIMENSIONS Display: 14 x 7 x 2 1/2 in. (35.6 x 17.8 x 6.4 cm) Ivory: 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 2 in. (8.9 x 3.8 x 5.1 cm)  (show scale)
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
ACCESSION NUMBER X839.3
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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CAPTION Hawaiian. Necklace (Lei Niho Palaoa), early 19th century. Human hair, ivory, fiber, Display: 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
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.
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: Hair is brittle. Hook-shaped pendant is nicked on edges. Ends of cord are fraying.
RECORD COMPLETENESS Best (83%)
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