The Bishop Museum is an excellent key to unlocking
and understanding Hawai‘i’s past, from the island’s
rise from the ocean to the captivating unification of the islands
by King Kamehameha I, through the missionary period to the
modern era of sugar cane and tourism.
In 1889, Charles Reed Bishop founded the museum to honor his
late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant
of the Kamehameha family. Princess Bishop believed in preserving
the islands’ culture and in her will she established the
Kamehameha school system, which is, so far, strictly for students
of Hawaiian descent. Originally, Bishop established the museum
to showcase the Princess’ large collection of royal artifacts.
But now, 114 years later, the museum stands as one of the oldest
and best places to visit and explore Hawaiian culture.
With a variety of rooms and halls, the museum invites everyone
to explore its exhibits and appreciate everything Hawaiian.
The Kahili Room holds about 250 kahili, or feather standards,
which were carried to signify the presence of a chief or used
at royal funerals. The museum holds the largest collection of
kahili in the world, and with each one stands a description of
what it was used for. Although Hawai‘i no longer has royals,
the kahili are still used in pageants and parades or to commemorate
events relating to royalty.
Portraits of Hawaiian royalty, starting with King Kamehameha
I and ending with the last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani,
decorate the walls along with a brief history of their reigns.
Across the Kahili Room and beyond a koa wood staircase is the
Hawaiian Hall. The Victorian-style hall is open in the center,
which is about half a football field in length. Three floors
around it are dedicated to artifacts used by ancestral Hawaiians
and the different cultures that have come to define Hawai‘i
as a diverse state. An authentic koa surfboard, koa bowls, and
poi pounders adorn the walls of the hall, each telling a story
of Hawai‘i’s ancestors. A replica of a Hawaiian grass
house sits atop the center stage where hula dancers perform daily.
An original hula skirt is showcased just off the stage and near
it sits a plaque that explains how the dance was almost completely
erased because the missionaries found it offensive when they
arrived in the 19th century. The last Kamehameha kings reinstated
the hula, and it was publicly performed regularly during the
reign of King Kalakaua.
To the left of the stage is the “most sacred cloaks of
all cloaks in existence,” a feather cloak belonging to
King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands. Up to 60,000
bird feathers were used to make the yellow and red cloak, which
is absent of markings, signifying that the great ruler was too
near to the gods to require an indication of rank.
Suspended from the ceiling is Prince Kuhio’s Royal Racing
Canoe, the ‘A, which was built in 1902 and consistently
placed first place in competitions from 1906-1910. Directly across
from the canoe is the museum’s most popular display, a
50-foot long sperm whale. The façade of the sperm whale
is made of papier-mâché and surrounds one side.
The other side is open to show the whale’s actual skeleton.
The third floor offers the best view of the skeleton and contains
a small exhibit about whale migration.
The second floor of the Hawaiian Hall also houses artifacts
made of dog, shark, and porpoise teeth. Original Hawaiian
on exhibit along with a story of how patterns are chosen to represent
the shadows of palm and tree leaves. Japanese silk kimonos, examples
of German-influenced architecture, and a Puerto Rican wedding
dress are some of the artifacts found on the third floor, celebrating
some of the other cultures that have shaped Hawai‘i throughout
history. A large Chinese bell sits in the northwest corner, which
was rung before worshippers entered the temple to meditate.
The museum also features ancient and modern plants in the Hawaiian
Court, just outside of the Hawaiian Hall, where people can grab
a quick bite to eat or just relax and enjoy the beautiful vegetation
found throughout the islands.
Upstairs from the front lobby, the Hall of Hawaiian Natural
History traces the islands back millions of years to when
eruptions formed. The exhibit also provides a quick insight and
provides examples of the types of insects that have learned to
adapt to life inside of lava tubes.
The Peoples of the Pacific Hall demonstrates how ancient Polynesian
societies lived and displays the ancient tools and clothing they
used. The exhibit allows for a deeper understanding of the origins
of Hawaiian society.
Next door, the Castle Building, which opened in 1990, has hosted
many major traveling exhibits such as Return of the Dinosaurs
in 1990 and Aloha from Waikiki in 2000. Chocolate: The Exhibition
is now on display, featuring the many ways chocolate has impacted
cultures worldwide. The exhibit provides interactive programs
such as cooking and tasting as well as artifacts inspired by
The museum’s planetarium reopened in June as the Jhamandas
Watumull planetarum. Renovations included new seating, lighting,
carpet, and neon signs. If the weather permits, the planetarium
offers daily views for solar observing. NASA launched two rovers
in early June and July, and they are scheduled to land on Mars
in January 2004. In preparation for the event, the planetarium
has set up two shows, Red Planet Mars and Mars Exploration Rover
Demonstration, to help observers understand what the land rovers
will be doing on the great red planet.
On Nov. 10, the museum broke ground for the new Science Learning
Center which will be centered on a 26-foot volcano that will “erupt” several
times a day. The new center will include subjects ranging from
oceanography to volcanology. The center will be built in three
phases, with the first phase scheduled to open December 2005.
The Bishop Museum offers a wealth of information into Hawai‘i’s
history. The museum is located on 1525 Bernice St. in Honolulu
and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $14.95 for
adults, but they do offer kama‘aina, military, and senior
rates with a valid ID. For more information call 847-3511 or
visit the Web site at www.bishopmuseum.org.