Sunrise Shells in Hawaiian History & Legend

Sunrise Shells in Hawaiian History & Legend
Hawaiian legend suggests that Sunrise Shells were the exclusive property of the Hawaiian royal families and that 'commoners' were not allowed to keep or wear them, but were instead ordered to search for the shells for the Chiefs and thier families. These beautiful shells were thought to be sacred and to bestow special blessings to the wearer, of which only the Hawaiian Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses were worthy.

Unfortunately there are very few sketches of ancient (late 1700s - early 1800s)Hawaiian Kings and Queens. I have researched hundreds of documents, drawings and museum archives but I have not been able to find one picture or description of a Hawaiian monarch wearing a Sunrise Shell.

With the coming of the missionaries in the 1800s also came the adoption of the European style of dress, and so the majority of available drawings of Hawaiian Royalty picture them in European-style dress and adornment. The pictures on this page are of the few that I could find in traditional native Hawaiian costume, and are from the early 1800s.

High Chief Boki and his wife the High Chiefess Kuini Liliha

Hawaiian Monarchy of the 1700-1800s
So although there is no historical documentation to substantiate the legend that these beautiful Sunrise Shells were ONLY for the Ali'i - the Hawaiian High Chiefs, or others of Royal Hawaiian bloodline, so much of Hawaiian history was passed down through Mele, or "Chant" that it is entirely possible that the legend is TRUE! Mele, Hula, and the native Hawaiian language were traditional methods of passing the history of the people of the Hawaiian Islands on to next generations.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Kingdom of Hawaii, I have included some of my favorite links in the next section, please enjoy! Click on the picture at left to go to the links page.

Pictured at left: Princess Nahienaena