Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 23, 2004

Hawai'i treasures on display

 •  New Edgy Lee film to join Smithsonian festivities

By William Risser
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Hailama Farden was thrilled by his glimpse at Hawai'i's royal history, displayed in a special exhibit that opened yesterday at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

This 'ukulele is part of the National Museum of Natural History's six-month exhibit of Hawai'i treasures in Washington.

Heather Wines • Gannett News Service

He marveled at the priceless collection of 70 artifacts, primarily from the late 18th century and early 19th century, including a preserved feather cloak, or 'ahu 'ula, worn by Kekuaokalani in the 1819 battle against Kamehameha II, and bowls from royal descendant Abigail Kawananakoa.

"It's beautifully displayed. It does nothing being locked up. It was absolutely thrilling," Farden said.

The museum has brought together its entire collection of Hawaiian artifacts for the first time in "Na Mea Makamae O Hawai'i — Hawaiian Treasures." The exhibition in the museum's Pacific Hall highlights Hawaiian culture and history from more than 200 years ago.

The exhibit's curator, Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler, conceived the display to complement the objects being displayed at the new National Museum of the American Indian, which opened Tuesday. It was "just a great opportunity" to raise awareness of Hawai'i's cultural heritage, she said.

The treasures will be on display until the end of March 2005, when the Pacific Hall undergoes extensive renovations.

For the exhibit, Elsie Kawao Durante, a member of the Hawaiian Royal Benevolent Societies, donated a kapa beater, an implement used for pounding tree bark into fabric. "I want all Hawaiians to be able to see the brilliance of their ancient culture," she said.

The exhibit's centerpiece is a 19-foot outrigger canoe, given to the museum by Queen Kapi'olani in 1887 while she was visiting Washington. It is the oldest Hawaiian canoe in the world and is one of the objects brought out of storage for the new exhibit.

With support from the royal societies and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the canoe underwent three months of restoration. Hawai'i-born Gordon Lee used traditional lashes to fasten the outrigger.

This 19-foot outrigger canoe was donated by Queen Kapi'olani in 1887 during her visit to Washington. Extensively restored for the exhibit, it is said to be the oldest Hawaiian canoe in the world.

Heather Wines • Gannett News Service

The symbolic significance of the canoe to Hawaiians goes beyond being a mode of transportation.

"Canoes, or wa'a, were buried with our people to help them go on to the next life. It's how our people got where we are," said Farden, a delegate from the 3,000-member royal societies that work to preserve the memory of Hawai'i's ali'i.

Other significant pieces include:

• An 'ahu 'ula worn during King Kalakaua's coronation.

• Bowls made of kou, milo, and koa wood, from Kalakaua's 50th birthday in 1886.

• A red-and-yellow feathered cape and feathered wand from Kalakaua's secret Hale Naua society.

"Mainly this is a genealogy of the pieces that are in the exhibition. This is Hawai'i as Native Americans," Kaeppler said.

The artifacts on display are part of the two Hawaiian collections that are in the Smithsonian's anthropology department. One collection was acquired in 1840 during the first American expedition to circumnavigate the globe. The other was a private collection purchased by the museum in 1909.

Otherwise rarely seen items at the Hawai'i exhibit at the Smithsonian include these feathered capes associated with King Kalakaua.

Heather Wines • Gannett News Service

The display cases also contain everyday items like poi pounders and an 'ukulele, a nose flute and various drums.

Also showcased are Ni'ihau shell necklaces and a traditional necklace made of human hair and ivory.

"It is one of the more important Hawaiian collections because of the various objects in it," Kaeppler said.

Complementing the exhibit are about 50 prints from the National Anthropological Archive, including many portraits and depictions of daily Island life.

OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona and members from the four royal societies are in Washington this week to participate in festivities celebrating native peoples and to see the Hawaiian treasures exhibit.

"I'm very much looking forward to seeing the collection itself ... ," Apoliona said.

Apoliona said she is excited that 250 to 300 Native Hawaiians made the trip.

"I think this is a great thing because it helps us connect our past to the present," she said.