One of the Islands' most beloved cultural and educational institutions, the Bishop Museum's Hawaiian Hall is scheduled to reopen Aug. 8 after three years and $21 million worth of renovations.
Now more than a century old, the building's Victorian-era features have undergone a much-needed restoration, while the hall's exhibit has been dramatically redesigned to showcase Hawaiian culture from the perspective of its people.
"I think in a lot of ways the notion of a portal is what this museum represents," said Bishop Museum project manager Noelle Kahanu. "It's a portal into another time, and it's a portal into a Hawaiian world."
Based on the cultural tradition of kaona, or many layers of meaning, the museum's Hawaiian exhibit is thematically divided into three parts, corresponding to the hall's three floors.
Of gods and men
"There is definitely a progression which begins with the birth of the Islands, or the formation of Hawaii, followed by the filling of those islands with life," said Kahanu. "Then the coming of the gods, and then the coming of man."
Kai Akea, the first-floor realm of watery origins, looks back at ancient Hawaii and the importance of religion to its people. The second floor is devoted to the Wao Kanaka realm where Hawaiians lived and worked. Here visitors are exposed to several interactive video displays featuring first-person testimonials by cultural practitioners of Hawaiian descent.
"There are all these little vignettes and contemporary stories, talking about fishing or about weaving and carrying on those practices and traditions," said Kahanu. "I think there are almost 30 of them that we had done that people can explore and learn about different aspects of Hawaiian culture that continue to this day."
Wao Lani, a mountain realm said to have been inhabited by direct descendants of the gods, is the hall's third-floor exhibit and examines the dynamic history of Hawaii's alii, or chiefs.
"It's a story told from a Hawaiian point of view," said Kahanu. "So you'll find Hawaiian language, Hawaiian chants, Hawaiian stories and all the mo'olelo, or the legends that appear ... in Hawaiian come with a little summary and English translation. So you really get a window into the way Hawaiians view their world."
Although a great effort has certainly been made to reshape the Hawaiian Hall's ultimate impact on visitors, the true stars of the exhibit are the countless artifacts, old favorites such as the stunning yellow and red feather capes of the alii; the Hale Pili, or grass house, a structure from Kauai dating to the early 1800s; and the traditional outrigger canoe suspended from the ceiling.
Admission is $16 for adults; $13 for children. The museum is open daily except Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.bishopmuseum.org.