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The Hawaiian Feathered God Head

There is a fascinating wickerwork head on display in our World Cultures Gallery, a rare example of the indigenous religious culture in Hawaii. Its ferocious features where designed to intimidate any invading warriors intent on gaining new territory from the resident tribe.

Wicker work God Head © Great North Museum: Hancock

This rare artefact, is an ‘aumakua hulu manu and was originally covered in colourful feathers. The large fearsome eyes, once emphasised with oval discs of pearl shell and black seeds for pupils, are now sightless, but the wide-open mouth still has its full compliment of fangs, taken from the canine teeth of dogs!

Collected on the island of Hawaii in the late 18th century there are only 19 of these heads known to survive and very little real evidence exists to tell us about their role in island culture. However, legend has it that they were carried into battle as a potent supernatural symbol to frighten opponents. The warriors would concentrate all their anger and fury into the god head before a conflict in the hope that the deity would unleash his anger upon their enemies.

When not at war the ‘aumakua hulu manu was kept in a special god house in the temple, where it was worshipped and kept safe ready for its next foray into combat.

The head formed part of the George Allan (1736-1800) collection but it is not known how he acquired it.

Allan was a solicitor who had his own museum of curiosities at Blackwell Grange near Darlington in County Durham. Part of his collection was bought by the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1822 and is now in the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s collections.

Read more about the Hancock’s Feathered God Head here

Read about the history of the collections here.