Refit complete, Bishop Museum reopens Kahili Room

HONOLULU -- The Bishop Museum reopened its Kahili Room after a nine-month renovation that transformed the room into a showcase of royal Hawaiian artifacts.

The museum also is featuring an exhibit called "A T-rex Named Sue," the most popular temporary exhibit in the history of the museum, through Oct. 15. It showcases a replica of a tyrannosaurus rex found in South Dakota.

The Kahili Room renovation and the T-rex exhibit are welcome publicity for the museum, following a decision by the museum earlier this year to return 80 Hawaiian burial artifacts to a group of native Hawaiians, who then buried the treasures in a Big Island cave.

The resulting uproar, fueled by angry collectors and other Hawaiian groups who were not consulted over the return of the artifacts, put the museum in a difficult position to explain the move to the public.

The renovated Kahili Room at the Bishop Museum showcases standards made of bird feathers and offers history on Hawaii's royalty. Even though the giveback was sanctioned under federal law, the way in which the objects were transferred to the group was criticized by federal officials.

The Hawaiian groups now are negotiating with each other over whether to return the artifacts to the museum or leave them where they are.

Now that the issue has cooled down a bit, the museum is trying to move on.

The T-rex exhibit is bringing the museum more visitors than any exhibit ever.

"We've had two other dinosaur exhibits prior to this since the late 1980s," said marketing director Kula Abiva, "but this one has done phenomenally well."

The exhibit brought in $250,000 in revenue in its first three weeks, said Abiva. The T-rex replica is 45 feet long and has 60 teeth.

The Kahili Room renovation has taken an uninspired exhibit near the entrance to the museum and turned it into one that celebrates royal Hawaiian heritage.

Kahilis are royal standards made of bird feathers.

In the days when Hawaii was a kingdom, the kahilis marked off the Kapu, an area around the chief or king that commoners could not cross.

(The Kapu also was a set of laws that governed Hawaiian society. Those laws were lifted by one of Kamehameha III's 21 wives at the same time American missionaries landed in Hawaii around 1820.)

The Kahili Room has several kahilis that were passed down over hundreds of years.

The most important kahili in the collection is the Ele'eleualani, translated as the Black Rain of Heaven. It is the first kahili you see on display in the room and was the first artifact to be registered in the museum when it opened in 1889.

The kahili was donated by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great.

"It has origins back to the 1400s," said Miki'ala Ayau, conservation assistant at the museum.

"It's been handed down from generation to generation and has the longest history of all the kahilis here."

Kahilis were the official emblem of Hawaiian royalty, said Ayau. They also announced a chief's presence in the days when there was no television or radio, and they protected the chief's spirituality.

The Black Rain of Heaven was made from the feathers of the O'o bird.

The kahilis were used through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Also in the Kahili Room are a royal genealogy of the Kamehameha family and portraits of reigning monarchs and their close relatives. Each portrait has a pair of kahilis.

Admission to the Bishop Museum costs $14.95 for adults and $11.95 for kids up to age 12 and for senior citizens. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Included with the admission are guided gallery and garden tours, live hula and music shows, science and Hawaiian craft demonstrations, a planetarium show and storytelling.

The Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu
Phone: (808) 847-3511
Web: www.bishopmuseum.org

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