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bishop museum : hawaiian sled, 1917 

Bishop Museum  : Hawaiian Sled, 1914-1918.

Extract from
Occasional Papers of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
Volume 6, 1914-1918.


Description and photographs of a sled or toboggan found in 1905 in a cave at Hookena, Hawaii, together with a small surfboard of breadfruit.
Page 58.

Another specimen, a sled or toboggan, made of breadfruit wood, is illustrated in Fig. 3, 4.
It was built like the bow of a native canoe, with the upward curve of the prow ending in the usual finish called the ihu.
Behind the ihu is a block correspond-
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ing in position with the main or umalu, the dasher of the canoe.
The dish-like body of the toboggan is nearly flat on the bottom and curves but slightly upward towards the edges where it rises
more abruptly to the rim.
The rim begins at the block and continues along both sides to the rear end.
There is no rim across the rear end.
The total length is 44.8 inches, width 15.5, length of body 34.5, height of rim from bottom 1.5, thickness of bottom 1.2 in middle and .5 at rear; block 7.2 long and 3.5 high and wide.

Through the neck, between the ihu and the umalu, two holes have been vertically cut (not drilled).
At various points along the lower edge other holes have been cut obliquely (Fig. 4), one on either side near the middle, two on the left and one on the right near the end.
They were skilfully made on a slant so as not to interfere with the upper surface (Fig. 3).
When the specimen was found there were heavy cords of braided coconut fibre attached through the perforations.
The upper surface is smooth, but the lower has been much scratched and scored, as might result from dragging a heavy load over stones or gravel.
Toward the rear end this surface has been nearly worn through, the thickness having been reduced more than a half.
All the cutting has been done with a blunt implement, and the specimen is undoubtedly ancient.
It was found in 1905 in a cave at Hookena, Hawaii, together with a small surfboard of breadfruit wood and several stone implements.
When found both toboggan and surfboard were impregnated with salt.

Following the discovery, it was recollected by the older natives at Hookena (according to a brief article in the Commercial Adver-

tiser, Dec. 6, 1905) that their parents and grandparents had told them of a certain chiefess named Kaneamuna who lived at Hookena in the time of Keawenuiaumi, king of Hawaii.
Her principal amusements were riding the surfboard and coasting down hill.
It was also said that for the latter purpose she had a course built on a hill back of Hookena and a sled made.
After her death her sled and surfboard disappeared, and it was common belief that those found in the cave were hers.

Page 61

The only type of sled previously known to us, is that with long, slender runners.
This Museum possesses one in complete condition and runners for two more.
Our completed specimen, received from the former Government Museum, consists of a pair of slender runners 11.5 feet long, 2.3 inches deep and 1 wide, set on edge, and kept in place—1.5 inches apart in front and 3 in rear (2.5 and 4 to centres)—by cross braces lashed to the runners at intervals of about 11 inches.
On the braces is placed a platform of wood, bambu and matting, 4 inches wide, covering the runners except three feet in front. The total height is 4.7 inches.*
Another pair of runners in the Museum collection is two feet longer, but otherwise identical with those of the complete specimen. All the runners are made of a very hard, durable wood.
The sliding was done on steep hillsides on a course made by clearing a track ten to twenty feet wide and covering this with dry grass.
In some places the course was paved or built up with stone and covered in the same way.
Remains of both kinds may still be found.
The sport was exclusively for men of chiefly rank, who occasionally came to their death thereby.
When sliding they lay full length on the sled and the skill required may be judged from its width.

Women did not follow this sport, although they were very expert on the surfboard.
I do not know if the all-pervading kapu system was the reason, but corpulence was a point of female beauty among the old Hawaiians, which would naturally make this sled unpopular with the sex.
I can find but one reference to a woman essaying the feat (Ellis, Tour Through Hawaii, London, 1827, p. 291), where Pele, the female Vulcan, appeared in human form and challenged a chief on Hawaii to a race.
"Pele, less acquainted with the art of balancing herself on the narrow sledge than her rival, was beaten
An expected result of such an unbecoming attempt on the part of a woman.

*This sled was found in a burial cave in Puna, Hawaii, by the late Rufus Lyman and by him given to King Kalakaua, from whom it came to the Government Museum.
It is the most perfect specimen known.

Page 62

Returning to the Henriques specimen, we get some light on the use of the toboggan from the fact that under the ancient system
women of certain high rank were not permitted to walk—they were carried.
It seems to me that this specimen may well have been the private car of some chiefess who preferred this mode of traveling.
In support of this I would refer to the position of the side ropes placed so as not to interfere with the seating space; the number of
ropes, indicating that numerous retainers were at command, and their arrangement, such that the toboggan could be perfectly controlled and so avoid an accident that might upset the august personage or cause her discomfort.
Were the toboggan intended for human conveyance the position naturally taken would be a seat, cross-legged or otherwise, with the weight of the body on the rear end of the sled and the block as a brace for the feet.
The excessive wear on the under surface at this place indicates such a probability.
The precautions taken and the number of men required would hardly be necessary, and the wear on the under surface would have been more evenly distributed were the sled used for the transportation of freight.
The fact that the toboggan was impregnated with salt, and its resemblance to the bow of a canoe savors more of the sea
than the hills; the presence of salt would be accounted for if one use of the sled was to carry Kaneamuna to and from the ocean;
it was stated that surf riding was one of her amusements.

The use of any sled by a woman must have been a departure from custom which was sufficiently novel to impress it on the memory of fourteen generations, but it could not have become general among women, or there would have been no comment at all.
The use of a sled of this type must have been an isolated case, or infrequent, or it would hardly have escaped attention so long.
I cannot but believe that the tradition refers to the Henriques specimen.

Page 141


I quote from the report to me of Mr. J. F. G.Stokes, the Curator:
"The number of specimens received during the year is satisfactory and well up to the average, but not as large as in the
previous year.
Mr. Henriques has added forty-three specimens to his collection already on loan, the most important of which is the small
breadfruit-wood surf board, found in the cave at Hookena with the sled described last year.
The coconut scraper mentioned in the list was made from a large cone shell, and is the first Hawaiian specimen of the kind to be reported.

Page 159

List of Accessions.
By Loan
Edgar Henriques, Honolulu. (L 925-967)
Shell coconut scraper, niho palaoa of limestone, olona board, Niihau mat, awa mortar, 16 koko, hau rope, kahili handle tool,
2 wilrus tusks, 3 gourd bowls, Chinese shell trumpet, 4 gourd bottles, fish line gourd, gourd syringe, basket, bambu braid, olona net, coir net, surf board, shell trumpet, 2 kapa anvils.
Hawaiian Islands.

Bernice P. Bishop Museum:
Occasional Papers.
Volume 6, 1914-1918.


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Geoff Cater (2016) : Bishop Museum : Hawaiian Sleds, 1918.