This ka'ei is believed to have been made for Liloa, the high chief of the island of Hawai`i. He reigned from about 1455 to 1485. His successor was his eldest son Hakau, but the ka'ei passed to his second son, 'Umi, born to a lower ranking mother. The sash could have been the same one that Liloa had given to Umi's mother for the future time when they would reunite, this story is similar to that of Theseus. Hakau was a despotic ruler and in 1490 was overthrown by `Umi. Then, for three generations, there is no mention of the ka`ei.
In the mid to late 1600s, Liloa's great-great-great-granddaughter Keakealaniwahine, daughter of Keakamahana, the highest ranking chiefess of Hawai'i, was in possession of the ka'ei. She ceremonially dressed her grandsons, Ka-i-amamao and Ke'eaumoku, in it - signifying that they were of the highest chiefly kapu (sacredness). Again, the ka`ei falls into obscurity, but records indicate that the ka'ei was handed down from Kamehameha the Great, to Kamehameha III, to Queen Kalama, to King Lunalilo. After Lunalilo’s death, it was in the possession Lunalilo's father, Charles Kanaina. After Kanaina’s death, it was claimed by King Kalākaua. He bequeathed it to his sister Lili`uokalani, who later gave it to the Bishop Museum making this one of the oldest family heirlooms in Hawaiian history in existence.
This amazing 14 ft. piece of 'i'iwi and 'ō'ō feathers (with some mamo) is extremely delicate. Based on examination of photographs reproduced in books, the ka`ei appears to be a base of olona covered with a broad red center stripe running its entire length, occasionally crossed by bands of yellow featherwork. The edges appear to be primarily mamo, with some sections in `e`e (the yellow feathers of the `o`o). A row of human teeth hangs from the lower edge of a horizontal band of `e`e. At the bottom edge a section is decorated with alternating rows of human teeth and rosettes or clusters of small fish teeth. This section appears to be bordered with mamo feathers. Probably the sections were added at later and separate dates, the human teeth being those of people whose mana was wanted to increase that of the ka`ei. One reason for the obscurity of the ka`ei could be that they were so sacred. The few ka`ei mentioned in legend were closely guarded to prevent them being viewed by the wrong people. For the unentitled to see, let alone touch, a ka`ei was death. Possibly one reason for the rarity and exceptional sacredness of the ka`ei is this unusually great mana. Even today, often items of personal use are considered to be kapu to their owner. In many halau hula, it is forbidden to borrow someone else's instruments or costumes. So, to wear such a personal garment is to claim a direct link to the mana and fertility of the owner. In other words, to claim descent, either genealogical or spiritual. As mana could be dissipated and lost through careless use and dispersal, such a powerful garment would require great solicitude in its use and display.