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Links to the Past

The Work of Early Hawaiian Artisans

Wendy S. Abeit

Publication Year: 2011

The work of Hawaiian artisans at the time of Western contact was woven seamlessly into their everyday lives and culture—the details of which are now lost. Although we can no longer comprehend the objects left to us with the same depth of understanding as early Hawaiians, we can appreciate their aesthetic qualities and the skill used in their construction, particularly when numerous pieces of the same type are viewed together.

Links to the Past makes this possible by reuniting more than a thousand eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Hawaiian artifacts from over seventy institutions and collections worldwide. The book is divided into twenty-one sections (wooden bowls, gourds, stone vessels, etc.), each introduced with color photographs, quotes from contemporary sources, and brief historical and technical information. These are followed by dozens of line drawings (more than 1,400 in all) based on actual artifacts or photographs and drawn to scale within each object category. Together they support and enhance learning about object shapes, patterns, sizes, and, in some cases, change over time. Accurate and detailed illustrations reproduce gourd, basket, and mat patterns—now faded and almost invisible on the objects themselves—as clearly and vibrantly as when they were first created.

Links to the Past is unique in bringing together hundreds of traditional Hawaiian objects in one publication. In the case of fans, helmets, and patterned water gourds, almost every known artifact is represented. Numerous pieces presented here have rarely or never been seen in print. The book will prove invaluable to those involved in the study and creation of Pacific art and visual culture and readers interested in early cultural exchange and pattern and design among indigenous cultures.

1,400 illus.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-3

When the famed British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook landed in Hawai‘i in 1778, the Islands had been isolated from the rest of Polynesia for some five hundred years. The objects he collected reveal that in half a millennium Hawaiians devised art styles very different from those of their ancestors and their Polynesian contemporaries. ...

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Wooden Bowls

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pp. 4-35

Most wooden bowls were made for chiefs. Except for a few specialized platters, such as those for pounding poi or attracting sharks, commoners made do with coconut and gourd vessels. Seasoned kou, milo, and kamani wood were used for the best bowls and ‘ōhi‘a for those of less importance. ...

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pp. 36-79

Gourds of various sizes and shapes were carved, cut, pierced, and shaped for specific purposes. Some became plates, platters, poi bowls, scrap bowls, spittoons, or wash basins; others were made into tops, toys, masks, fish scoops, funnels, or strainers. Still others became ocarinas, rattles, hula drums, or containers for lei, fish line, and tapa. ...

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Stone Vessels

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pp. 80-89

Undecorated stone vessels in a wide variety of shapes were carved for use as mortars, lamps, dye cups, and salt pans. Unfortunately, most of these have little documentation accompanying them, so they must tell their own story. Those identified as lamps usually have soot in their depressions. ...

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pp. 90-95

The closely twined baskets found in Hawai‘i are unique in the Pacific. In its most basic configuration, twining consists of a pair of strands, one passing in front of a stake and the other in back, then changing places so the front one moves to the back and the back one to the front. ...

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pp. 96-111

From time immemorial coconut-leaflet fans have been used to fan fires, shoo flies, shield eyes from the sun, and stir up cool breezes. Coarse palm fans were plaited from folded whole leaflets and finer ones from stripped folded leaflets. Although the triangular coconut fan is found across the Pacific, the carefully crafted crescent-shaped fan ...

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pp. 112-125

Aesthetics, religion, and politics were closely related in ancient Hawai‘i. Strong, beautifully made feather-covered crested helmets were once worn by men of high rank in times of war. The basketwork frame may have provided physical protection, but it was the exquisite featherwork that exhorted the gods to guard the most sacred part of the body. ...

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Capes & Cloaks

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pp. 126-169

Worn only by chiefs for sacred protection and proclaiming superiority in battles and ceremonies, the brilliant feather shoulder coverings (‘ahu‘ula, kīpuka) were made in two varieties: short capes and long cloaks that reached to the ground. They were result of considerable work by men and women of various ranks: ...

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pp. 170-185

All Hawaiian women commonly wore garlands of flowers, scented leaves, nuts, seeds, or dried fruit, but only those of the highest rank wore the rich and vivid feather leis known as lei hulu. These were worn around the neck (lei ‘ā‘ī) in ones or twos; on the head (lei po‘o) in twos or more as multiple strands or one long, wrapped strand, ...

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pp. 186-195

Providing powerful spiritual protection and signifying political importance, kāhili were displayed whenever a highranking man, woman, or child was present. Small kāhili (kāhili pa‘a lima ) were always carried by chiefs or their attendants as badges of status and to brush away flies. Handheld kāhili were also used in sorcery. ...

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pp. 196-205

Eighteenth-century Hawaiians used clubs (newa, hoa, lā‘au, lā‘au pālau, pālau) in real and mock battles. It is not known whether the numerous Hawaiian terms for the weapons identify specific shapes or sizes or if they derive from usage on specific islands. Like other valued objects, many clubs were given names. ...

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Piercing Weapons

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pp. 206-213

Hawaiian warriors, when not engaged in battle, trained in martial arts (lua) and participated in mock battles. Lua included boxing, wrestling, pole-vaulting, and using slings, clubs, knives, and piercing weapons, which were mostly made of a single piece of hard straight-grained wood such as kauila, uhiuhi, or olopua. ...

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Sharktooth Implements

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pp. 214-223

Sharktooth implements in a wide variety of shapes were used for domestic purposes that involved cutting, carving, or trimming and in warfare. Single and double-tooth implements were mostly used as tools and multiple-tooth ones as weapons. ...

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pp. 224-239

The favored tool for cutting or shaping wood was an adze made from a one-piece wooden handle and a stone blade lashed firmly to it with olonā or coconut fiber cordage. The stone, usually of a fine-grained basalt, was gathered on the slopes of volcanoes by artisans who had their own special guilds, heiau, and chants. ...

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pp. 240-247

Fishing was an important complement to agriculture. It required a thorough knowledge of the topography and currents of the nearby shallow and deep sea, the feeding and other habits of fish, the changes brought by weather and seasons, and special bait mixtures. A wide variety of fishing methods and fishhooks resulted. ...

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Burden Poles

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pp. 248-252

Poles that were round in cross section, slightly curved, and had a thick center were used to carry heavy objects suspended in nets hung from the ends, which were shaped into single or multiple protuberances. When the ends were carved to resemble human heads the poles were called ‘auamo ki‘i or māmaka ki‘i and could only be used for chiefs. ...

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pp. 253-257

In outrigger sailing canoes, long objects such as fish spears, canoe poles, long and short spears (pololū and ihe) were lashed to a support (haka) attached to the foreboom with the ends of the objects resting on the aftboom. Supports with heads or figures were prized possessions of ali‘i, and were handed down for generations. ..

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pp. 258-267

Drums played an integral role in pre-Christian religious and cultural life. They were associated both with the great god Lono and the goddess of hula, Laka. Tall, sharkskin-capped, carved wooden drums were used in rituals that were observed at places of worship, heiau. ...

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Tapa Beater Patterns

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pp. 268-277

Bark cloth or tapa (kapa), was made from the inner bark of such plants as the māmaki, oloa (ma‘aloa, ma‘oloa), ‘akala, and hau but most frequently from the Chinese paper mulberry (wauke). As elsewhere in the Pacific, there are several kinds of wauke, each producing a characteristic cloth. ...

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Makaloa Mats

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pp. 278-297

Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i women made extremely soft and pliable sleeping mats from the young stems of the sedge makaloa. Finely plaited at 4–10 strips to the centimeter, these mats were fashioned in successive bands of oblique check weave measuring from 2–10 cm deep. New leaves were introduced evenly in bands approximately every 40 cm. ...

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pp. 298-301

No Hawaiian kites have survived — only petroglyphs of kites shaped like birds, (lupe manu) and drawings of kites seen by Stewart Culin just before 1900. Because missionaries felt that children should be at school and adults at work, they actively discouraged most forms of recreation. ...

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String Figures

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pp. 302-308

In the days before Western influence, games and recreation played a major role in the daily life of Hawaiians of every age and gender. Nearly a hundred different kinds of games have been documented. One favorite was string figures (hei). Forming these developed dexterity and memory ...

Appendix: Museum Abbreviations

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pp. 309-310

Plant and Animal Names

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pp. 311-312

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Tapa Beater Pattern Names

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pp. 313-314

Many pattern names have been collected, but often separately from the beaters themselves. Thus it is not always possible to know to what patterns the names refer. Geography, personal preference, change over time, and accuracy of the original notation might account for several names referring to the same pattern or conversely one name referring to different patterns. ...

Object Glossary

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pp. 315-316

Introductory Quotations

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pp. 317-320


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pp. 321-322

Notes to Introduction

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pp. 323-324

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pp. 325-328

There are more than 1,400 drawings in this book. They are based on photographs from books about the Pacific and the Ethnophoto File at the Bishop Museum, photographs taken by me, and images e-mailed to me from afar. Only through the cooperation and goodwill of nearly a hundred curators and specialists was I able to amass the images and information presented here. ...

Photograph Credits

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pp. 329

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837716
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834760

Publication Year: 2011