You must go visit the newly renovated Hawaiian Hall at the Bishop Museum!

Debbie and me in front of Hawaiian Hall

The Hawaiian Hall was the first official Bishop Museum building that was built from 1898 to 1903. So much thought was put into the original construction with the extensive use of native koa wood and the Victorian influence preferred by the founding father of the Bishop Museum, Charles Reed Bishop, and his beloved wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

The Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as it was considered “one of the noblest buildings of Honolulu.” Please read the article that was written in 2008 in the “Let’s Talk Story” section of the Honolulu Festival website for overall information of Hawai'i’s “must visit” attraction, the Bishop Museum. For local folks, I suggest that you become an annual member so that you and your family can enjoy the many rotating exhibits and special attractions all year long.

Charles Reed Bishop

Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop

First of all, let me run through some of the facts of this major renovation. The Hall was closed in 2006 for three years, reopening in August 8, 2009. This was the first major renovation to be done in over a century. The renovation cost $21 million and the priority was to restore its original features and bring it up to modern conservation and accessibility standards while modernizing the Hall’s interpretation by bringing multiple voices and a Native Hawaiian perspective. This was done with the help of a reputable museum design firm and the involvement of Hawaiian scholars, cultural practitioners and artists. The popular Sperm Whale skeleton with the paper mache body continues to suspend above the central hall. But now it is joined by other creatures of the Hawaiian waters such as the honu (turtle), ulua, shark and manta ray, kino lau, the body forms of gods and ancestral spirits.

What is so neat is that the Hall honors the past, but it also reflects the many Native Hawaiian practices that have been continued till today. The treasured artifacts honor the rich history and culture of Hawai'i that flourished, then ebbed and flourished once more. Many of the artifacts were never displayed in the past for fear that it might be damaged. It’s exciting to know that they will be rotated in the future so that visitors can have the greatest access to all of the collections.

Display cases are filled with artifacts pertinent to the theme of the three floors. There are interactive media stations that use still photos, movies, quotes and interviews of the people of Hawaii talking about their culture. These are true chicken skin moments.

I was fortunate to get a tour of the Hawaiian Hall and its three floors by Debbie, my new friend (actually my cousin Mary’s friend, my friend too now) who has also introduced me to Hawaiian trails and plants. (See blogs of Makiki and Likeke Trails… Lyon Arboretum coming soon.) There is nothing like having a docent who has trained with the very best of Bishop Museum to take you around. The facts come alive in Debbie’s narration. She tells her stories with so much enthusiasm, her eyes light up and there is a big smile on her face as she shares her knowledge. I actually remember many of her stories even now. Debbie, a Kamehameha alumni, even made her own uniform with the material given to her by the Bishop Museum. Wow.

And while you are visiting the new Hawaiian Hall, try to go to the 1:00 p.m. Ola Na Mo'olelo, Oral Traditions. It is a 25 minute dramatic presentation that brings the Mueum’s collections to life. The presentation that I was fortunate enough to experience was done by Loko. Her one woman show reflected on kapa, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government and the true meaning of the Hawaiian flag quilt. Simply magnificent.

Loko, Ola Na Mo'olelo

Now let me take you to the three floors and show you some of the sights. But trust me, this is just a peak of what is waiting for you when you go there and absorb the place for yourself.

The first floor is Kai Akea. This realm represents the Hawaiian gods, legends, beliefs and the world pre-contact Hawaii. It is about the sea, of the Hawaiian’s watery origins. The central area of this floor includes ki'i (carved wooden images of the gods), a model of a heiau (temple) and a hale pili (grass house).

Maui, pulling up the islands





Hale Pili

Royal capes made of bird feathers

One Ocean, One People

Fishing god

The second floor is Wao Kanaka. This is the realm of humans and the importance of the land and nature in daily life. This realm is about earth, where people live and work in harmony with the land. Some of the display cases are about Social Structure and
'Ohana, Seasonal, Calendar, Lunar and Daily Cycles, Kapu System, Fishing, Canoes and Ahupua'a.



Poi pounders

Fishing tackle


Music instruments

Kapa tools


Ornate mat


Lauhala hat



The third floor is Wao Lani. It is the realm of those closest to the heavens, the gods, the ali'i and the monarchs. This floor dedicates a special area to the special ali'i wahine and their legacies at the Bishop Museum. They are Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and her cousins Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani and Queen Emma. We can also learn much about the Hawaiian kingdom’s history through the lives of the ruling ali'i, the overthrow of the Hawaiian nation and the Hawaiian renaissance movement of the 20th century. Artifacts of King Kamehameha I (feather cloak and sash), King David Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani (the Annexation Flag, the very banner that was removed from the 'Iolani Palace during the overthrow) are breathtaking. The third floor also honors Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, Duke Kahanamoku and Mary Kawena Pukui . A beautiful panel created by the young artists of Native Hawaiian Charter Schools represents a prophecy made during the time of Kamehameha I and is titled “Ho'ohuli” which means “to cause an overturning, a change.” This work of art depicts the hope for the new generation of Native Hawaiians.

Princess Pauahi's hats

Princess Ruth's umeke

Kamehameha the Great

Sacred Sash

King Kalakaua

Queen Liliuokalani

Quilted flag

Duke's surfboard

Duke and Mary


There is so much to see. I encourage you to visit the Hawaiian Hall and celebrate Hawaii's culture.

Honolulu Festival

Bishop Museum

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