Home Stamp collecting The BYUH Archives are home to many Hawaiian artifacts, including a staff...

The BYUH Archives are home to many Hawaiian artifacts, including a staff made for nobility and a weapon made from shark teeth

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Photo by BYUH Archives

BYU-Hawaii faculty members said learning about the history of Hawaiian artifacts held in the school’s archives helps people understand the intricacies of Hawaiian culture. They claimed that each artifact has its own unique purpose that contributes to the history of Hawaii.

The McGuire collection

Brooks Haderlie, the University’s archivist, said most of the records BYUH owns and maintains come from the McGuire Collection. Of around 1,500 artifacts in total, most are Hawaiian and were donated in the name of James WL McGuire, he said. Haderlie explained that McGuire was born in Kona on the Big Island and his mother was a direct descendant of King Kamehameha the Great and was considered a minor chieftain, or minor ali’i, because of that ancestry.

Haderlie added that due to McGuire’s ancestry, he was a servant to Queen Kapiolani and Queen Liliouokalani. As an attendant, he was able to accumulate artifacts of cultural significance to Hawaiians all over Hawaii, he said. The Honolulu Star Bulletin published an article on McGuire and through that article Haderlie said he was able to learn the story behind the collection and the man who preserved it.

Haderlie stated that McGuire joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1921. When he died in 1941, he wrote in his will that all artifacts he owned would be donated to the Church. . After being handed over to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the artifacts were turned over to the Church College of Hawaii in order to properly care for and preserve the artifacts, Haderlie said.

Kamoa’e Walk, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language and Performing Arts, said: “Over the years these artifacts have been viewed by a number of people, whether academics or … [by those who] have genealogical links with them.

The feathered kāhili

The feathered kāhili, Haderlie explained, was made by collecting a number of feathers, either from chickens or other birds, which were woven or sewn together and put on a stick to indicate that a chief or chiefdom was coming. He said that the plumage of the kāhili was an indicator of the rank or status of the individual depending on the scarcity of the feather. Walk said: “[A kāhili] is a feathered standard that has a functional purpose, like warding off insects around the leader, but they are also a representation of their royal status.

Walk said the kāhili can be of different sizes, with some reaching 10 feet tall, adding that the short kāhili would be made for the ali’i, or leader.

Nose flute

Haderlie shared that the early Hawaiians didn’t have many musical instruments other than drums made from gourds and stringed instruments. He said there was a misconception that the ukulele originated in Hawaii and clarified that it was introduced by the Portuguese when they came to the island.

The nasal flute, he said, was a bamboo air instrument that would be held up to the player’s nose. There are also three finger holes that would alter the pitch of the note.

Haderlie said that string or wind instruments were only used for making sounds or music, while percussion instruments were used in the hula.

Pandanus Basket

The pandanus basket, made from the leaves of the pandanus tree, was a common basket used to carry materials for daily use, Haderlie explained. The leaves were carefully woven together to create the latch, strap, and basket to form the beautifully woven handbag, he added. Haderlie said the condition of the basket is wonderful considering it is around 100 years old.


Three Hawaiian artifacts at the BYUH Archives are: 1. A book kapa which is a long piece of squared wood with grooves on either side, then tapered at one end to make a handle.  It was used to make pounded kapa for clothes, blankets or mats.  2. A turtle bone scraper used to reach the heart of the mulberry tree.  The bone of a turtle has been smoothed on one side by volcanic stone to protrude the outer bark of the mulberry tree.  3 A carved and shaped wooden poi hammering dish for making poi.

Photo by BYUH Archives


The turtle bone scraper and the kapa pestle

Haderlie said that another interesting artifact is the turtle bone scraper, used to reach the heart of the mulberry tree. He said the bone of a turtle was smoothed on one side by volcanic stone to protrude the outer bark of the mulberry tree.

Haderlie said the mulberry kernel is very flexible and would be made into kapa tissue. He said that the kapa pounder would then be used to make the clothes, blankets or mats. The Hawaiians would take the inside of the mulberry tree and use the kapa pestle to flatten the piece together into a large cloth. He explained that the women would use the kapa pounder, which had ridges on each side, to add designs like a stamp or watermark to each blanket.

Flying poi plate

Walk said that the wooden poi hammering tray was carved and shaped in order to make poi. He added that poi was a staple food for Hawaiians and was eaten with every meal, and they produced several hundred pounds of poi each week. He shared that they would earn enough to feed their entire family, which was multigenerational.

Walk said that making poi is a collective effort and would be done mostly by men, adding that as an adult every young man would learn the art of making poi. Walk said that pounding the poi helps preserve it and allows it to ferment, bringing out its favorite sour taste.

“There is a resurgence on many levels of learning about cultural things that were considered upside down and a good number of Hawaiians are realizing that this is good practice on a personal, cultural and nutritional level.” He said there are clear health benefits to physically hammering the poi, rather than buying it from a store, as it has not been processed in a machine.


Hawaiian artifacts from the BYUH Archives include: 1. Coconut mug where the white coconut flesh is cut up and only the half-shell remains.  2. A seashell necklace that would have been worn by a person of great importance and which has small seashells woven together to create a necklace with a large seashell positioned as a pendant at the bottom of the necklace.  3. A lei o mano, or shark's teeth that could be worn on the knuckles.  It has three loops of rope that you would run your fingers through and the shark teeth would rest in your palm.

Photo by BYUH Archives

Coconut cup

Haderlie said the coconut is an important part of Hawaiian culture because every part is used. The coconut shell was used as a cup to hold poi, drink water or serve as a scraper, he shared.

Shell necklace and large decorative shell

Haderlie held up a shell necklace that would have been worn by someone of great importance. Walk said the seashell necklaces are made in different styles and usually have a woven core that the seashells will be sewn into. He said it would have been laborious and tedious work that required a lot of patience on the part of the craftsman.

He said the shells would be hand-punched in exactly the same spot to make the small holes the cord would thread through and then perfectly aligned with the ones before it. Walk said: “Royalty may have retained the artisans to make these kinds of ornate things for them.” He claimed that it would take around 200 hours for a craftsman to collect the materials, drill the holes, and then make the lei.

Haderlie said the large shell could have been worn by a kupuna due to its size and the small hole in the center of the shell. However, according to Walk, the large decorative shell could have been just a decorative piece. Haderlie said there wasn’t much information about the artifact, but said the shell was personalized to expose the mother-of-pearl underneath and noted that the edge of the shell was scalloped.

Lei o mano

Haderlie claimed that one of the most interesting artifacts was a lei o mano, shark teeth that could be worn over knuckles. He explained, “It has three loops of rope that you would run your fingers through and the shark’s teeth would rest in your palm.”

The lei o mano would be hidden from the opponent and they would come up behind them and slash their opponent in the stomach to disembowel them, he said. This artifact was one of many weapons made with shark teeth for use in combat or in personal arguments.


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