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O‘ahu Museum Ideas: Listen to Stories in a Cemetery at Hawaiian Mission Houses


Hawaiian Mission Houses

Photos: David Croxford


Nearly 200 years ago, the first congregational missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i and built houses meant to serve as community gathering places and cultural centers. Here, missionaries shared sermons, enjoyed theater and mele and operated Hawai‘i’s first printing press. The mission houses were a site to create and share culture. Two centuries later, they still are.


“A misconception is that when you come here, it’s just to see old buildings,” says Hawaiian Mission Houses Executive Director Neal Hitch. “Yes, this is a historic site and an information archive. But it’s also a living, breathing place that’s making new and exciting things, the same way it was when the mission was active.”


Today, the mission houses operate daily tours for visitors and local student groups, as well as manage an archive that includes the largest collection of Hawaiian language books in the world. They also host an assortment of mele programs and live performances. For eight years, they’ve performed theater (“you could make an argument that the theater program has been going on since 1903,” says Hitch) from Shakespeare to their signature event, “Cemetery Pūpū Theatre,” where local actors represent historical figures buried at the mission cemetery and deliver graveside monologues about their lives to an audience. “If you asked someone to join us as we read history for 20 minutes, I don’t think they would. But this is an experience of hearing engaging stories and you feel like you’re in the presence of the person,” says Hitch, who plans to take Cemetery Theatre to Makawao Cemetery on Maui next.


“Whether it’s through music, theater, art or sparking ideas or conversation, the mission houses aren’t static,” he says. “We’re just telling the beginning of a story that still affects everyone in Hawai‘i today.” 


Hawaiian Mission Houses



Cemetery Pūpū Theatre can sell out. Get your tickets early.

Don’t miss the Mission Houses’ mele series, a quarterly concert featuring hula, chant and storytelling. In 2019, the theme is Na Lani ‘Ēha; each performance will focus on music and stories tied to a single monarch.

Looking for family fun? Family Day Open House happens twice a year, offering free admission and period-style activities including candle making, games, weaving and a chance to try the working water pump.



Founded 1920, on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands

Info 553 S. King St., (808) 447-3910, missionhouses.org

Hours Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission $10 general admission; $8 for seniors, military and kama‘āina; and $6 for students age 6 to those in college

Size 20,506 square feet in total interior space across a fully landscaped 1.2-acre site

Annual visitors Roughly 17,000 in 2017; about 4,000 were local students on field trips

Run by The Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society

Fun fact Cemetery Pūpū Theatre recently won five Po‘okela Awards, which celebrate excellence in local theater (a rare achievement for a museum).





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