A feather cloak and helmet gifted to British explorer James Cook by a Hawaiian chief is now returning back to its home country after spending over 100 years in Te Papa museum.

The 'ahu'ula (cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet) were gifted by Hawaiian Chief Kalani'opu'u to Captain James Cook in 1779 and has been displayed at Wellington's Te Papa museum since 1912.

Now 237 years later, the cloak and helmet will make the journey back home to Hawaii.

Te Papa chief executive Rick Ellis said the museum was "thrilled and honoured" to return the artifacts.


"When they are shared with the people of Hawaii, I am sure they will inspire some wonderful conversations and insights, as they did when displayed here in Aotearoa New Zealand," he said.

The feathered cloak and helmet represented a period in the timeline of Hawaii when there was a balance between the cultural, political and spiritual parts of Native Hawaiians and the environment, a Te Papa museum spokeswoman said.

The construction of featherwork in ancient Hawaii required an incredible amount of labour and craftsmanship, she said.

The clock was created with feathers from about 20,000 birds.

The feathered helmet was gifted by a Hawaiian Chief Kalani'opu'u to Captain Cook. Photo / Te Papa
The feathered helmet was gifted by a Hawaiian Chief Kalani'opu'u to Captain Cook. Photo / Te Papa

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs Ka Pouhana chief executive Kamana'opono Crabbe said the return of the heirlooms would be a "source of inspiration, reflection and discussion amongst Native Hawaiians, Hawaii residents and visitors alike".

"I'm grateful to witness the return of these cultural heirlooms, and how it is being made possible by the kokua of many in both New Zealand and Hawaii," he said.

There will be a powhiri at Te Papa museum at 9am this Friday where the Hawaiian delegation will be welcomed.

The cloak and helmet would travel back to Hawaii and would be welcomed in a formal Hawaiian ceremony on March 17.


The two artifacts go on display in the Bishop Museum in Hawaii from 19 March.