LIHUE — When the curtains were pulled away Thursday to reveal the royal cloak honoring King Kaumuali‘i, it was the first time Maryanne Kusaka had seen it.
She, like the other 75 people gathered in the Ali‘i Gallery at the Kaua`i Museum, was in awe of its majesty and beauty.
“It’s hard to find words,” said the president of the Kaua`i Museum board of directors. “It’s just a feeling of pride. We’ve been emphasizing Kaumuali‘i and his history at the museum, and now to have his cloak is like the completion of our story.”
The unveiling of “Ha‘akulou” was an hourlong ceremony that included pule, oli and hula. The crowd included Hawaiian benevolent clubs dressed in full regalia, including The Royal Order of Kamehameha, Na Wahine Hui O Kamehameha, ‘Ahahui Ka‘ahumanu, Hale O Na Ali‘i O Hawai`i, and Daughters of Hawai`i.
It was led by museum Director Chucky Boy Chock.
The ‘ahu‘ula (cloak) and the mahiole (Hawaiian feathered helmet) were made by Rick Makanaaloha San Nicolas of Hawaiian Feathers. It resembles those worn by Kaumuali‘i during special ceremonies — and in battle — when he reigned on Kaua`i and Ni‘ihau.
“People didn’t realize they used it as a shield,” Chock said. “A lot of times it really protected them.”
The work was commissioned by the board of directors last year, and San Nicolas recently completed the project that includes about 250,000 pheasant feathers and took nearly 3,000 hours to complete.
It was be on display from now on at the Kaua`i Museum, with paintings of the king wearing a cloak by Evelyn Ritter all around it.
“It’s the crown jewel of the Pacific, as far as we’re concerned, for Kaua`i,” Chock said. “It’s going to be our Mona Lisa.”
Chock said Kaumuali‘i was a great leader, compassionate, who cared deeply for his people.
“He was the guy,” Chock said. “There was not one bad thing said about him. He was unbelievable.”
The cloak and helmet are a tribute.
“This is a gift,” he added. “We created this as a gift to honor him.”
San Nicolas, raised in Hawai`i but who today lives in California, has completed five cloaks and has been commissioned to do several more. He’s been doing feather work about 20 years.
The feathers for the cloak are tied together to fine mesh netting. It’s a slow, detailed process.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I get to do this every day.”
He arrived on Kaua`i this week to set up the cloak and helmet. Before he lets it go on its final journey, he says a pule over it.
“When it’s unveiled it has a whole new look and whole new feeling. They’re just like children to me, I spend so much time with them,” he said. “It’s hard to let them go.”
Chris O’Connor made the steel frame at his Kapahi home that holds the cloak. He didn’t want the frame to upstage the cloak, but to enhance it.
It’s made to the height of a man just over 6 feet tall.
“I think the way it’s displayed is important,” he said. “This pose is as if he is in the process of pulling it around him. It’s something that is alive and dynamic.”
Kusaka called the display “phenomenal for Kaua`i.”
She said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the museum to commission San Nicolas, and it didn’t miss that chance.
“We’re very, very proud Chucky brought it to us,” she said. “We were able to trust and get donors and believe in what we were doing.”
The down payment alone on the project was $20,000, so it took a lot of fundraising.
“It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for our donors,” Chock said.
Chock had high praise for the museum’s staff, docents, volunteers and board members.
“We are here for the good of the museum. We are here as a team, to make Kaua`i and Ni‘ihau proud. This is their place, this is our place, this is everybody’s. We’re here to serve.”
The cloak’s name, Ha‘akulou, is for Deborah Kapule, King Kaumuali‘i’s wife and the last queen of Kauai.
Chock said it’s important to have the ‘ahu‘ula and
“That’s why we do this,” Chock said. “To keep the traditions alive, to keep them moving forward.”
“And, culturally, it instills pride,” he said. “It’s a prideful thing to the Hawaiian people.”
Now, locals will not have to travel to the Bishop Museum on Oahu to see the king’s cloak.
“You can come here,” Chock said.