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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Royal breast pendant in form of a hook

Royal breast pendant in form of a hook

ca. 18th - 19th century

Out of all the ornaments available to a Hawaiian, this hook is the most valuable. Early versions were carved from the teeth of beached sperm whales and suspended on thick coils of braided human hair. Men and women of chiefly rank have worn such hooks for several centuries, but what they represent is a matter of debate. Some equate the form with a tongue, but Lucia Jensen, historian for the Hale Naua III Society of Hawaiian Artists, stated in 1977:

"They represent the embryonic form, shaped in a crescent, the ho'aka (crescent) which again symbolized the vessel of mana. Those who ruled wore the lei niho palaoa in remembrance of their solemn birthright. The crescent is turned upwards, allowing the imaginary continuing line of the design to create a complete circle with the downward crescent at the top of the head. Within this circle or vessel is contained the mana and aura, the essence of aili'i."

Whale ivory
4 1/2 x 1 5/16 x 2 7/8 in. (11.43 x 3.37 x 7.3 cm)
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, A Bead Quiz, July 1, 2008 - July 1, 2009

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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