I have a small collection of dolls from around the world that are designed to represent traditional ethnic costumes. One of my favorite series are the MAKALEKA DOLLS produced in Hawaii starting in the 1950’s. They are colorful, come in various styles that truly represent Hawaiian costumes from Colonial times onward, and are relatively inexpensive to collect. Since little has been published about them, I decided to write this guide.
THE MAKER:Makaleka dolls were produced in Hawaii from the 1950's through the 1970's by Makaleka Hawaii Ltd. of Honolulu. The president and owner of the company was Margaret Clarke Bennet, who unfortunately passed away in 2002 at the venerable age of 82. She was born and raised in Honolulu and was part Hawaiian. The company was named after her. Makaleka is the Hawaiian word for Margaret.
She employed local craftsmen to create the dolls in costumes that represented traditional styles of dress found in the islands of Hawaii.
All are made on a cone base. Hands tend to made of a porcelain-like material she called Porcella. Most of the doll faces were made of tapa mache made from tapa bark especially imported from Tonga in Polynesia and hand painted. Some of the later models had faces made from the porcella material. Dresses were made using a wide variety of colorful Hawaiian prints and were accessorised with leis of shell, beads, seeds, simulated flowers; various types of straw hats, Haka wreaths, fabric hats, and handbags.
What I find most interesting, as a collector, is the variety of styles that she used in making the dolls that faithfully illustrate the historical development of Hawaiian dress as it evolved from the 1820's to the present.
MAKALEKA DOLLS & the EVOLUTION OF HAWAIIAN DRESSMakaleka dolls reflect changes in traditional Hawaiian clothing, particularly the dress called HOLOKU. Little has been written about the history of Hawaiian clothing. One very good article is A Brief History of the Design Evolution of the Hawaiian Holoku by Linda Boynton Arthur, 1994.
When missionaries from England arrived in Hawaii in 1820, they found Hawaiian women wearing only skirts call Pa’u made of tapa bark cloth that was wound around their waists and extended below the knee. The ali'i (Hawaiian royalty) admired the clothing of the missionary women and wanted to wear similar styles of their own. The missionary women, somewhat scandalized by the revealing native costumes, were quite eager to encourage their desire to make a change in fashion.
Clothing of the missionary ladies consisted of long dresses with a short waist, narrow skirt and long, tight sleeves. Underneath was a short sleeved or sleeveless chemise. They were somewhat overdressed for the heat of the tropics and the Hawaiian ladies (especially the royal ladies) were somewhat too large to fit into the tight fighting costumes of the European ladies. Compromises were made.
Makaleka Doll wearing Missionary Style
The missionary women replaced the high waistline of their dress style with a yoke above the bust line. The resulting style often called a Mother Hubbard was a full, straight skirt attached to yoke with a high collar and long tight sleeves. It became known as a holoku from the Hawaiian words Holo (to go or run) and Ku (stop or stand), for the Hawaiian ladies discovered they could run in it or stand in it with equal ease. Fabrics that had been acquired from the sandalwood trade were brought out from storage to make the dresses. They consisted of brocades, silks, and other luxury materials but generally had no pattern or were rather plain in pattern. The Holoku was widely worn by 1822. As it made little sense to wear two pieces of clothing in the tropical heat, Hawaiian women wore the mu’u mu’u as house-wear or sleepwear.
Makaleka Doll with yoked holoku
By the 1890’s, the Holoku began to lose some of its fullness as Hawaiian women began to imitate the more close-fitting style using a princess line with a variety of sleeves including Leg-of-Mutton; sweeping trains of laces, ruffles, trims; and lower necklines of European fashion. Linda Boynton Arthur (see reference above) referred to this new style as the fashion holoku. The older style continued to be used for everyday wear, while the new style was worn for more formal occasions.
Fashion Hokolu with ruffled hem and cuffs,
Leg-of-Mutton sleeves, Princess waist line,
sweeping train, lei, basket purse, stylish wide-
brimmed straw hat. (This doll seems to be
one of the most popular and commonly found.)
From 1900 through 1920 the Fashion Holoku continued to add more details in design with eyelets, lace, pin tucks, and ruffles. Yokes and hems increased in size, as well as trains, to produce a straighter silhouette.
Makaleka Doll with large hem
and ruffled sleeves.
From the 1920’s to 1930’s, yokes were eliminated, trains were extremely long . . . sometimes six feet in length . . ., sleeves were shortened, and ruffles resembling leis were used. The zipper, introduced in 1933, allowed a tighter fit for the more slender Hawaiian lady. Tropical print fabrics were introduced with an increase in tourism.
Makaleka Doll in Fashion Holoku with long train,
ruffles, slender fit, tropical print. Straw hat
has been replaced with head lei.
By the 1940’s the mu’u mu’u came out of the closet, so to speak, as the increased usage of print fabrics made them more acceptable to wear in public. Mu'u Mu'us were long or short, but always loose and comfortable. In 1947 the hawaiian garment industry came up with a new version of the Holoku called a Holomu'u. It was to be used as an elegant day dress that had the slender fit of the Holoku but without a train.
Makaleka Dolls in Holomu'u
By the 1950’s, Hawaii had become the fiftieth state in the United States and witnessed the rise of a flourishing tourist industry. Fashion reflected this with use of bold Hawaiian prints. Mu’u mu’us were adopted by comfort-seeking tourists as the Hawaiian fashion statement, completely by-passing the holoku worn by most Hawaiian women.
Makaleka Doll in Tourist Mu’u Mu’u
As excitement settled down in the 1960’s, Holoku dresses were made with more sedate prints or no prints at. Black and dark blue velvet became popular for formal wear, were more fitted, and trains diminished in length. The mu’u mu’u is worn as everyday casual wear.
Makaleka Doll in Fashion Holoku with
more sedate print, coloful coordinating
Today, the Holoku continues to be worn as a symbol of Hawaiian culture. Fashion Holoku in velvets with long trains are worn to special events such as the Annual Holoku Ball. White Holoku known as Ku’uipo (Sweetheart) gowns with long trains are worn at weddings. Even mu’u mu’us are now worn, especially by haolis (non-residents) on dressier occasions and are a major export.
Makaleka Doll in Ku’uipo wedding gown in a style used
on the island of Niihau with long train, white flower lei
on the head called a haku (head) wreath, white flower
lei with Pupu shell corsage on lei, ruffled sleeves and
Sometimes the white lei is replaced by a horseshoe
shaped Maile lei (considered to be the oldest type of lei
made from the green leaves, similar to laurel leaves, of
the Maile vine which symbolizes peace).