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Tabooing wand ko'o ko'o lua

Tabooing wand ko’o ko’o lua

Place: Hawaii
Category: Ritual

wood, dog tail skin, plant fibre, Hawaii, l. 57.8 cm, Inv. Oz 245

Humphrey No. 191: ‘Another [flyflap or whisk] made of a Dog’s tail, fastened to a wood handle, from Sandwich Islands.’

The wand is made of pointed wood which is coated with the skin of a dog’s tail. Underneath as well as below the skin is a wrapping of a plant material. Together, the skin and wrapping cover about two thirds of the wand. The remaining third is polished and used as the handle.

The sources depicting the appearance and use of the wands are sparse: ‘In the literature they are either ignored or called such misnomers as dance wands or head ornaments. They were described by Capt. King as ‘wands tipt with dogs hair’.’ ‘Apparently they were used to indicate taboo places and made of pointed wood decorated with dog hair and bird feathers’ (Kaeppler 1978a: 81). The misleading nomenclature can also be seen in Humphrey’s descriptions, e.g., he called Oz 245 a ‘flyflap or whisk’ and Oz 1257 a ‘wand’. Mitchell (1982: 82) spoke of ‘Kapu Sticks and Wands.’ He called the former pulo’ulo’u in Hawaiian and described its appearance as follows: ‘[a] hardwood pole, some four or five feet long, topped with a ball of white kapa.’ Different to these were the ‘Wands’ depicted by Mitchell (1982: 82) as ‘wooden sticks, pointed at one end and decorated at the other with dog’s hair and feathers’. The tabooing wand indicates a place as kapu (meaning sacred, forbidden, separate). To designate something or someone as kapu meant that religious and political guidelines were enforced (Fornander 1878: 113). King (in Beaglehole 1967, Illa: 622) also referred to the function of the tabooing wands: ‘At some distance near a small hut were half a dozn boys, holding little flags & Wands, which they call’d Tabooed Sticks, & would not let us go near them.’

The seven tabooing wands known to be in museum collections today can all be traced back to Cook’s voyage, and are therefore especially important. They are located in Göttingen, Vienna, Leningrad, and in the Cuming Museum in London (Kaeppler 1978a: 81). Inken Köhler


Beaglehole, John Cawte, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, Hakluyt Society, Extra Series, 36, 1 u. 2. vol. 3, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1955-1967 IIIa and IIIb.

Fornander, Abraham, An Account of the Polynesian Race its Origin and Migrations and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I, London, 1878, vol. 1.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Mitchell, Donald DK, Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture, Honolulu, 1982.

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