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photograph of current display in the Grand Vestibule

A display highlighting the interaction between the monarchy and the wider world


Cape ('ahu'ula) 1824

RCIN 69992

Grand Vestibule, Windsor Castle

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Feather cloaks and capes, called 'ahu'ula, were among the most important symbols of status in Hawaii. Full cloaks were worn only by the highest-ranking chiefs on ceremonial occasions or during battle. Smaller capes were worn by those of lesser standing. Thousands of feathers were required to make a single cloak and the scarcity of vibrant yellow feathers made the garments even more precious. Yellow feathers came from the 'ö'ö (Moho nobilis) and mamo (Drepanis pacifica) birds, which are mostly black and shed only a few yellow feathers in the moulting season. Considerable manpower was required to catch the birds and remove their yellow feathers, after which they would be released back into the wild. Contrasting red feathers served as a further symbol of chiefly greatness, the colour red being closely associated with divinity throughout Polynesia. 

This cape was one of six presented to George IV by King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) during their visit to England in 1824. Soon after their arrival, the royal couple contracted measles, to which they had no immunity, and they died while in London.