Having a Rainy Day in Honolulu? Do Some Indoor Cultural Immersion.
PHOTO: Hawaii King Kamehameha III (center) and Queen Kalama (left) with nieces and nephews, circa 1853. (photo via Twitter/bishopmuseum)
As far as the numbers go, Waikiki is the most popular landing place for tourists visiting the Hawaiian Islands. People flock to the revered beach for its relatively calm surf, happening hotels, high-end shops, food scene and nightlife. However, despite these attractive amenities, it is the least authentic look into actual Hawaiian culture as compared to other destinations throughout the state. All of it, including the grains of sand themselves, has been brought in to create what you see today.
But that doesn’t mean a trip to Waikiki has to be shallow. In fact, one of the island’s premier collections of Hawaiian history and culture is on display nearby at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Regardless of whether you crave to learn more about the locals or just want to feel like you left Hawaii with more than a gut full of Mai Tais, this is indeed the place to pencil in a half day of exploration and reflection.
Celebrating its 126th anniversary this year, the museum's Pacific Hall starts at the very beginning, tracing the origins of migration for the first Hawaiian settlers through the Polynesian Islands from Asia. Learn how ocean cultures are connected through their archeology, oral traditions, and linguistics, then see the technology that made their lives possible through models of canoes and woven mats.
Once you understand how the locals landed on Hawaii in the first place, move on to the Hawaiian Hall for a journey that highlights the more recent history, from when King Kamehameha "unified" all the islands up until the time Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959 — 18 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
There are three floors at the freshly refurbished Hawaiian Hall: The first explains the peoples' origins in conjunction with the Pacific Hall; the second dives into aboriginal daily life, including the tools, artifacts and traditions used to live and survive; and the third pays respect to the islands' major kings and influencers, providing insight into their bloodlines, motives, conquests and accolades.
Outside of the main Pacific and Hawaiian Halls, there are several other permanent exhibits that connect the past to the present. The Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kahili Room honors Hawaii’s ali‘I, or lineage of royalty, and displays the traditional Kahili that was once indicative of such nobility, made from the bones of an enemy king and decorated with the bird feathers.
The Na Ulu Kaiwi‘ula Native Garden is where you can learn all about plants used in Hawaiian culture, both endemic and invasive. The Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center explains Hawaii’s vast ecological composition in the realms of volcanology, oceanography and biodiversity.
Temporary exhibits are always on rotation at the Bishop Museum. Right now, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Hawaii’s most famous surfer, is honored in an exhibit that will run through February. Upcoming later this year is the “Lele o Na Manu: Hawaiian Forest Birds” exhibit, opening in March, which highlights endemic species, their role in history and Hawaiian culture, and the need for their conservation and protection. In June, the “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” exhibit will shed light on the life of a Great White alongside the impact the shark fin trade has had on its population.
The Bishop Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance fee is $19.95. A visit is sure to enhance your understanding and appreciation of Hawaii culture and enrich your experience on the islands. Just make sure you save the shark exhibit until the last day, when you’ve done all your swimming.
More by Will McGough
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