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Hawaiian Artifact History

Collecting Hawaiian artifacts started with the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain James Cook.  While there is speculation that Hawaii was first "discovered" by the Spaniards, there is no doubt that Cook's visit was the first in which any extensive and reported communication took place.  The artifacts brought back to Great Britain by Cook started a fascination and an appreciation of Hawaiian artifacts that remains today.

Bone NecklaceOther Pacific explorers such as La Perouse and Vancouver, and traders such as Portlock and Dixon, used the islands as a stopover on long Pacific voyages.  These explorers and merchants led the way for the whaling industry and were later followed by the missionaries.  Within a short time, the ancient ways began to blend into the ways of the West.  The Hawaiians quickly adapted the products of the West to uses formerly reserved for stones and bark cloth.  Like the American Indians, Hawaiians quickly adopted glass and clay beads as adornments and traded bone and ivory "jewelry" for the colorful wares.  It also wasn't long before the traditional attire and tools observed by Cook, La Perouse and Vancouver, had been replaced by metal, cloth and glass.

Decorated GourdBefore Cook, Hawaii was a stone, plant and wood culture.  The Hawaiians were among the most skillful craft people using nature to produce the necessities of life.  From fishing to the manufacturing of garments, the Hawaiians used what nature provided.  The collecting of Hawaii's past thusly centers on stone, wood, bone, plant material and feathers, all natural products of an isolated environment.

Poi PounderArtifacts
Some of the most well preserved artifacts are of stone.  Stones were made into fishing lures, weights, game stones, ancient food processors (poi pounders, pestles and mortars), weapons, bowls and many different types of products.  Perhaps the most commonly recognized stone artifact is the poi pounder.  There are actually three types of poi pounders: knob, stirrup and ring.  The stirrup and ring were developed on Kauai.  Most theories relate this development to women's involvement in the making of poi.  The stirrup and ring normally require two hands where the knob type, which is usually heavier, requires only one hand.

Stones were also used for weights and anchors.  Weights take many forms and some were made of coral.  Weights come in all sizes from the very small to quite large, which were used for deeper water.  Some weights are irregular in shape while others show great signs of craftsmanship.

War ClubsStone weapons were important to a culture that had no gunpowder.  Sling stones fashioned like small lemon sized footballs were slung in battle.  Stone club heads delivered life-threatening blows.  Tripping stones were used to knock down an opponent.  Canoe breakers tied with cord were used to knock off the canoe outrigger and capsize it.

Stones were put to many other uses such as grinding bowls and pestles, ceremonial bowls for religious purposes, and pans for the making of salt.  There were many different types of stones used.  Almost every type of rock found in the islands was used for some type of stone implement.  One rare type of rock is Hematite which is found on Kauai and Niihau.  This fine grained reddish rock was crafted into lures and was highly prized.  Lava with Olivine was also used.

Fish HooksThe Hawaiians were skilled fishermen.  Hooks were made from wood, human bone, shell, dog teeth and turtle shell.  In some instances, ivory from a whale's tooth was used to make points for large wooden shanks.  Many tools were utilized in making fish hooks.  Coral blades were used for cutting, vana spines were used for filing, and vana and shell bits used for drilling.

A favorite food of the Hawaiian was squid, which is found in the shallow reef waters.  Stone lures, today called coffee bean and bread loaf lures because of their shapes, were used along with wooden shafts and bone hooks.  This style of fishing is still used today, substituting lead for the lure and metal for the shaft and hook.

Determining Age
One of the questions most frequently asked has to do with determining the age of a stone artifact.  It is probably the most difficult question to respond to.  Poi pounders were made well into the 20th century.  Many of Hawaii's artisans reproduce stone artifacts for sale as works of art.  There are several rules used by serious collectors.
Rule Number 1 is to do research.  The Bishop Museum has a number of publications available for research which details the use and manufacture of stone implements.  Rule Number 2 is to know the rock.  Some of the later stone pieces were made from ballast brought to Hawaii in the hulls of trading vessels from China.  Rock from all over the world was used to make stone implements and a familiarity with Hawaiian geology is important in determining whether or not you are dealing with Hawaiian rock.  This is not to say that traditional stone implements made in Hawaii and utilizing "foreign" rock or materials are not important period pieces.  Poi pounders made from iron are an example of rare period artifacts.  Granite from China was also used to make squid lures and bowls.  Rock found in locales other than Hawaii help to date stones as being "post contact" artifacts.
Rule Number 3 is to know the provenance of the artifact.  Artifacts from the Cook voyages command major prices at auction.  Items from the collection of James Hooper are highly valued.  There were many collections of stones and other artifacts put together by individuals in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  There are also many well known collectors who presently have valuable stone and artifact collections.  It is a rule of thumb that provenance adds to value.
Rule Number 4 is to purchase stones and artifacts from reputable dealers.  There are many copies and reproductions of artifacts.  This is especially true of wooden artifacts such as spears, amakuas, and calabash bowls.  Reputable dealers normally have a provenance for their artifacts and will back up the purchase with a guarantee.  There are situations, however, where the authenticity of artifacts cannot be determined.
Rule Number 5, purchase only those artifacts that the collector enjoys and has a good feeling about.  It's a little like art...you either like it or you don't.

Collecting Hawaiian artifacts enables the collector to be in touch with the past.  To handle stones and artifacts that may have pre-dated Cook is to gain an understanding of the culture of Hawaii.  Perhaps no other culture better used their environment in sustaining a way of life.  There are lessons to be learned by all in the collecting and study of Hawaiian artifacts.

The Gallery at Hawaiian Stones & Artifacts
HONOLULU: 625 Iolani Avenue, PH, Honolulu, HI 96813 ~ (808) 526-3245
HILO: 688 Kinoole Street, Kukuau Plaza, Suite 108, Hilo, HI 96820 ~ (808) 961-5155
Email:hawaiiancollectibles@gmail.com