Hawaiian Artifacts: An Illustrated Guide

Wooden bowls, gourds, stone vessels, baskets, fans … these are categories in local author Wendy Arbeit’s latest offering, Links to the Past: The Work of Early Hawaiian Artisans. For those fascinated by history, Hawaiian history in particular, the table of contents is mouth-watering. It continues: helmets, capes and cloaks, lei, kahili, clubs, piercing weapons, and much more.

Fresh from the University of Hawaii Press, this collection of drawings and descriptions of ancient artifacts won two Palapala Po’okela awards last month: the award for Excellence in Text or Reference Books, and an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Special Interest Books.

Links to the Past

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Arbeit’s latest offering, Links to the Past. Photos courtesy of Wendy Arbeit

“I wanted to fill a gap in existing Hawaiian literature,” says Arbeit of taking on the five-year challenge to research and compile the book. “When I began, only a couple of books included more than a few examples of early Hawaiian artifacts, and their scope was limited. By the time I exhausted every lead, I had exceeded my expectations with a finished book of 1,400 drawings of 1,000 objects collected by Westerners in the first 50 years after Cook’s arrival – exquisitely crafted things made by Hawaiian artisans still working within the context and constraints of their own culture and religion.”

Tantalizing insight into the objects, their aesthetic and their use is accompanied by Arbeit’s own sketches of many of the pieces. She viewed firsthand artifacts from Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, Queen Emma Summer Palace and BYU-Laie. She also visited several museums in England and one in Paris. Another 75 museums worldwide sent her an additional selection of images and information.

Some of her findings were surprising:

“I was constantly impressed with the variation of designs in each medium,” she notes. “I rarely saw identical patterns. For instance, I only saw one duplicate of the 39 water bottles in the gourd chapter, and no duplicates of the 28 kahili handles or the more than 60 feather lei.

“I was excited to uncover hundreds of objects that hadn’t been seen in years – ones that were not on display and that hadn’t been included in books. The helmet, mahiole, on the cover (pictured here) is a good example. In fact, it was only recently identified as being Hawaiian by its Lisbon museum.”

Links to the Past joins Arbeit’s titles on related subjects: What Are Fronds For?, Tapa in Tonga and Baskets in Polynesia.

the TICKET stub


Where: Native Books Na Mea Hawaii
Cost: $75
More Info: uhpress.hawaii.edu



Warning: This sounds like a bunch of fun, but you might need to make a few old friends to get in on the action. Hawaii veteran glitz and glamour master Jack Cione presents his seventh annual Arcadia Follies production Come to the Cabaret, Ol’ Chum! June 14-30. Seating is free, but the hitch is you need to actually know someone from Arcadia to attend as their guest.

As I said, start making friends because Cione, himself an Arcadia resident, has lined up a cast of 24 seniors ages 55-90 to sing, dance and otherwise wow with lavish costumes all shiny and frilly with flourishes of rhinestones, feathers and sequins. This year’s hourlong show features eight scenes that pay tribute to master showmen like Flo Ziegfeld, Busby Berkeley, Billy Rose and George White – men who glorified female beauty and talent. Likewise, Cione’s show highlights female beauty, and comedy.

“This year will feature a cast of seniors dancing, singing and wearing Las Vegas-style costumes, and having the time of their lives,” says Cione.

The show runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 983-1808.