Mamo

1. Black Hawaiian honey creeper (Drepanis pacifica): its yellow feathers above and below the tail were used in choicest featherwork. Formerly found only on Hawaiʻi, not seen since the 1880s. A Molokaʻi species was Drepanis funerea, not seen since the 1890s; also hoa and ʻōʻō nuku mū.

2. Safflower or false saffron (Carthamus tinctorius), a branching annual, 30 to 120 cm high, from Asia, grown for its flowers, which are yellow, like the feathers of the mamo bird. (Neal 858.)

3. A sergeant fish (Abudefduf abdominalis), to about 163 mm long. Also mamamo, mamo pohole. (PPN mamo.)

4. Descendant, posterity.

This week will focus on manu, birds, because they are my favorite creatures and I think they deserve some recognition.

In Hawaiʻi, birds were used for food, decoration, omens, religious purposes. The mamo was no exception.

Mamo was a small black honeycreeper with a few (very few) choice yellow feathers above and below its tail. Its beak was long and curved, just perfect for drinking nectar from lehua blossoms, a trait found in a few of the honeycreepers. Their feathers were gathered by the bird catchers who would smear a sticky substance on the branches of the ʻōhiʻa lehua and wait until a bird would get stuck. Then they would gently hold the bird, remove the few yellow feathers, wash its feet with kukui oil to remove the stickiness and let the bird go. These feathers were then given to those who specialized in making symbols of royalty such as feather lei, helmet, capes and cloaks.

Without going into the detail of the adaptive radiation, evolution, and all of that, it will suffice to say that the mamo, a forest bird unique to Hawaiʻi, no longer exists due to a number of reasons, including loss of habitat, introduced diseases, and introduced predators. In fact, I have a photograph from the Bishop Museum that is purported to be of the LAST known living mamo, perched on the finger of a man. It is said that they killed the mamo after the picture was taken, knowing that it had no mate, so they could study it. I hate that picture but I keep it as a reminder of our fragile environment and our insensitivity to it.

The mamo feathers are the most highly prized of all the bird feathers that were used in feathered symbols. Its feathers were held in the highest esteem and was sought after by the highest, most sacred ranking aliʻi. Therefore, the word mamo is also synonymous with someone held in high regard or esteem. For this reason, you may know someone named Mamo. Though the name refers to the honeycreeper, it is more than likely the name was given because the parents regard the child in high regard as precious as our aliʻi.

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