O‘ahu Museum Ideas: Sleep Next to a Volcano at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Videos and photos: Aaron K. Yoshino
They come every Wednesday, carrying their knives and bunches of lauhala, walking into the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum as if they own the place—which, as Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, in a sense they do. Setting up on tables outside the Hawaiian Hall, they start weaving and carving, “using Wednesdays here as a gathering place,” says Melanie Ide, the museum’s new president and executive officer. Visitors are encouraged to join in. “Bring your blanket, find some shade, do a little work.”
The community investment is something new for the museum, a result of profound institutional changes, starting with the Hawaiian Hall’s redesign, which Ide herself worked on from 2005 to 2013. “It wasn’t until we did this full restoration and reinterpretation that the museum presented Native Hawaiian culture from a Native Hawaiian perspective for the first time,” she says. The three-floor evocation of Hawai‘i’s godly and human cosmology is complemented by the Pacific Hall’s focus on all of Oceania.
“The shift to a Hawaiian perspective reflected a recentering of our institution,” Ide says. It was a hit with visitors, but she seems just as proud of the grassroots response—the carvers and weavers “who just decided they would come on Wednesdays.”
The challenge at the museum has always been how to showcase its 26 million artifacts and objects. “We have an infinite number of stories to tell,” says Ide. More formal interactive exhibits like the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center offer a mix of hard science and experiential display, such as the twice-daily “lava melt” eruption (the museum’s sleepovers camp nearby) and Wave on Waikīkī simulator, where you hop on a koa board and ride Duke Kahanamoku’s famous 1-mile wave. The always-popular J. Watumull Planetarium has shows for all ages from dinosaurs to Polynesian navigation (Wayfinders) and even hosts star-watching Night Music with the ‘Ukulele Guild of Hawai‘i.
Ide identifies two great challenges. “We’re basically one of the world’s major museums sitting on a population of 1.4 million, rather than sitting in New York or Chicago, places that have a large population to support them.” And, after 2008 federal funding plunged from 40 percent to 4 percent, the museum underwent a series of well-publicized job eliminations and cutbacks.
The good news? “Every museum has their turn,” Ide says. “I think it’s the Bishop Museum’s turn once and for all to build an endowment, to get the right kind of public and private support. So we’ve been increasing the scope of our mission, doing more in terms of the services that we can provide to the community.”
She can’t resist pointing out one more point of pride. With the Bishop’s massive collections, “Hawai‘i is the capital of evolution and extinction. We put the Galapagos to shame in terms of evolution. We’re like the Galapagos on steroids.”
Visit the museum after sunset for sleepovers and museum after dark. Students in third to 12th grade can explore the galleries, see a planetarium show and engage in activities, with adult chaperones.
Find family fun at the Hi-Sci Discovery Day. Scheduled for March 2019, kids can do hands-on science activities with museum scientists and partners.
Founded 1889 by Charles R. Bishop in memory of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, his wife
Info 1525 Bernice St., (808) 847-3511, bishopmuseum.org
Admission general: $24.95 adult; $21.95 seniors 65 and up; $16.95 youth ages 4–7. Kama‘āina and military with ID: $14.95 adult; $12.95 seniors; $10.95 youth. Under 4 free.
Hours Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Size 14 acres
Annual visitors more than 200,000
Fun fact A couple of years ago, the Ethnology team examined a lei of kupe‘e shells given to Queen Kapi‘olani under bright lights and noticed two papers within the shells. One bore the name of its donor, a woman who composed a now-famous song for the queen.
Photo: Christine Labrador