Kahili (kah-HEE-lee) are feathered standards used from ancient times by Hawaiian royalty. Similarly to how the nobility of Europe use banners with coats of arms, Hawaiian nobility usekahili to show status, lineage, and family ties.
There are many sizes and styles of kahili, from very small kahili-pa`a-lima (hand kahili) carried like a scepter by female chiefs, to the towering formal kahili. There are also many intermediary sizes which each have their own place in traditional regalia.
Leilehua Yuen is the author of Kahili – Standards of Royalty, a report for the national park service on pre-1819 styles, uses, and crafting of kahili. Seven kahili crafted by Leilehua Yuen are currently owned by the Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Other kāhili she has crafted are in private collections.
Kahili handles were finely crafted from native hardwoods, bone, tortoise shell, and after European
contact, exotic woods, ivory, silver, and gold.
Left, the artist wraps the ends of feathers with thread she has spun by hand from the bark of hau trees, a relative of the ornamental hibiscus.
The feathers are lashed in specific patterns to fine sticks made from coconut leaflet midribs or other suitable materials. The sticks are then lashed to a central rod.
Malama-ka-Mo`omeheu, one of the kāhili in the collection of Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, was completed in March of 2000 by artist, writer, and educator Leilehua Yuen.
The seven kāhili in the Pu`uhonua collection which were crafted by Leilehua were based on styles in use prior to 1819.
The design of Malama-ka-Mo`omeheu (Cherish the Culture) was inspired by `Ele-`Ele-Ua-Lani (Dark Rain of Heaven), the kahili of the Hawai`i Island High Chief, Lono-i-ka-Makahiki. (circa early 1500s) `Ele-`Ele-Ua-Lani is believed to have been the first true kahili.
photos by Phil Rosenberg