Tour of Museum: Bishop Museum

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One hundred eighty-two years ago today, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, one of this century’s memorable women, and great-granddaughter of Hawai’i‘s greatest King, Kamehameha I, was born in Honolulu. Bernice Bishop‘s “herstory” is heartwarming. As a philanthropist, she founded the Kamehameha Schools for educating Hawaiian children. She followed her heart by marrying the man she herself had chosen, and not the one that had been chosen for her. She refused the throne offered her by a dying monarch, quietly sidestepping the pomp and circumstance that would have come with the title. But as the last in line to the illustrious crown, her refusal ended the royal reign of the House of Kamehameha.

My trip to the museum, which was preceded by two false stops onboard #2 Bus–one in Chinatown, (I was lured perhaps by the swine image of Lucky Belly), and too soon before the traffic lights in the corner of Kalapama–was quite the ride. The rest of the way to the museum is a block down from Kalihi to Bernice Street.

Built in 1889, the Bishop Museum was first used as a school ground for girls, which was eventually turned into a museum as repository for her papers and the artifacts she had collected during her travels. Inside the cool stone structure, guests are greeted at the foot of the impressive wooden staircase made entirely of koa, the gorgeous hardwood used everywhere in the museum, and which tree, we were told by its present curator, Ms Maly, grew in abundance in Hawaii. However, to turn the hardwood into fine specimens of wonderful carpentry, it had to be shipped to the mainland to be fashioned into doors, columns, cabinets, which are then brought back to the museum.

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Feathered standards, called kahili are showcased in the Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kahili Room if one turns left at the entrance, before going up the stairs to the Hawaiian room. Feathered standards were used as emblems for the high chiefs, or ali’i nui of Hawaii any time they are in the vicinity. Kahili were also used in formal state ceremonies such as at the opening of the Legislature, during coronation rites and visits of dignitaries, and especially during royal funerals, where they were held aloft as a sign of respect

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If one turns right at the entrance, one would find the Joseph Long Room.

Up the staircase is Hawaiian Hall, home to the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts, and at the center of it, suspended from the rafters, is a papier mache skeleton of a sperm whale.

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Also found in the Bishop Museum grounds are the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, which opened in November 2005, and which contains interactive volcanology and dinosaur learning exhibits, and the oldest planetarium in all of Polynesia, the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium, an educational and research facility devoted to astronomy.

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