Hidden Stories of Extinction: Hawaiian ʻAhuʻula Feather Capes as Biocultural Artefacts

Gitte Westergaard


Natural history museums have been the natural place to find remnants of extinction, but extinction can also be hidden in cultural artefacts. This article identifies certain possibilities and challenges in telling extinction stories through cultural artefacts. Principally, they can reveal different anthropogenic connections to lost biodiversity and challenge our perceptions of extinction and how to restore relationships with what is lost. I illustrate this through the Hawaiian ‘ahu‘ula (cloaks or capes) that were made from feathers of endemic forest birds now extinct or threatened on the islands. By approaching the ‘ahu‘ula as a biocultural artefact, this article points to new ways of telling stories of extinction beyond natural history museums. 


Ethnographic collections; biocultural artefacts; feather objects; extinction; Hawaiʻi

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v20i1.3803

Copyright (c) 2022 Gitte Westergaard

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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