The interpretation of the distinctive shape of niho palaoa remains uncertain. According to Cox and Davenport, its curving tongue-like shape represents the ultimate abstraction of the 'protruding jaw-mouth-tongue' form found in ‘aumakua images of family gods or deified ancestors (Cox & Davenport, Hawaiian Sculpture, 1974, p. 42), a theory which perhaps indicates the genealogical connection between these deities and the aristocratic wearers of lei niho palaoa.
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