Niihau, nicknamed "The Forbidden Island" because it is privately owned and is not accessible to the general public, has always been a mysterious and ancient place, even to those who have lived in Hawaii their entire lives. Most people have never set foot on Niihau, even though it lies only 17 miles off the leeward coast of Kauai, and the only people who live there are some 200 native Hawaiians and the Robinson family owners who employ and care for them. Niihau does not have any flowers, so the tiny, shiny seashells of their pristine, untouched shores were used for adornment.
Niihau is truly unique from the other Hawaiian islands as the island's inhabitants have been isolated from modern culture, and there are no banks, telephones, shops, restaurants or other comforts of westernized life. The native Hawaiians painstakingly craft intricate and beautiful works of art known world wide as Niihau Shells. These beautiful authentic Hawaiian heirlooms are the only seashell in the world which can be insured, and long, beautiful strands of these shell leis can be worth well over $30,000!
There are three types of Niihau shells: kahelelani, momi, and laiki. Kahelelani shells are the tiniest and rarest of the three types, and all three types of shells range in color and size, and these things determine their value. Momi shells are white or speckled (as are laiki shells), and the most popular way to string momi shells resembles a beautiful tiny pikake lei. Momi shells are the perfect accessory to any Hawaiian style outfit as they are so unique and elegant. The craftsmanship of these leis, when accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the crafter on Niihau, is impeccable. It is extremely difficult to create these leis, as the tiny shells must be collected, sorted according to type, size and color, and pierced by a needle and strung together. In a quality lei, each shell is individually tied, so if one shell should break or be lost, the rest of the lei remains intact.
Over the years many beautiful different designs have been thought up, showcasing the imagination and ingenuity of the Hawaiians who skillfully create them. Niihau shell jewelry making is truly an authentic Hawaiian craft, passed down from generation to generation from the times of Hawaiian royalty.
Surprisingly, Niihau shells are relatively unknown to some island residents. For example: me. I was born and raised in Hawaii and consider myself to be fairly educated in Hawaiian culture and things, but I only recently became acquainted with Niihau shells a few years ago when a girlfriend announced she was finally "getting her shells." Naturally it sounded a little strange to me ... who gets excited about seashells? And why are they called Niihau shells? It was then that she explained that they were very expensive and only found on Niihau, and the ones she wanted to purchase were about $2000. I almost fainted and thought she was crazy, since she didn't have any pictures to show me. All she said was, "they're very pretty," very matter-of-factly, as though that explained it all. Well, a year or so later at a Hawaii products show, I saw two women at a booth and they were making Niihau shell leis. When I saw them with my own eyes I understood my friend's enthusiasm. These weren't just any seashells, they were incredibly shiny and the leis were strung together so uniformly and artfully! I fell in love. I don't even like jewelry! I went home that day and looked up everything I could on Niihau shells, and I learned that these shells are actually found on all of the Hawaiian islands, but they are nowhere near the quality of shells found on Niihau -- here on Oahu they are much smaller, too small to string, and on Kauai they are very dull.
Somewhere in between falling in love with how they looked and educating myself on these tiny works of art, I decided I needed a set of my own. I went back to the show, since you can't get these shells just anywhere (otherwise I would have seen them before, right?) and ordered a set of momi shells -- a necklace, matching earrings and a bracelet. I felt a little crazy for spending so much on seashells, but now, over a year later, I do not regret my purchase one bit. I love wearing my Niihau shells at every occasion and they are also a great conversation piece, because believe it or not, there are a lot of people in Hawaii who have never seen Niihau shells, either! I guess it all has to do with the isolation of the place. It's a little strange because the public school system in Hawaii teaches Hawaiian history and culture in grades 4, 7 and 10, and as a little kid I learned that the "flower" of Niihau was the pupu... the Niihau shell! It never sunk in that this funny-named seashell was such a beautiful work of art until I actually saw them with my own eyes. In fact, there is a song I knew as a child about the pupu and how it is shiny... Pupu Hinuhinu. I guess I never thought about what I was singing.
To celebrate the Niihau shells, we are having a 20% off sale on Niihau shell jewelry on http://hawaiianjewelrybox.com. These fine pieces of art (bracelets and necklaces) come with certificates of authenticity from their artisans on Niihau.