Entering the Inner Sanctum of Bishop Museum


All photos are the property of Kareninhonolulu

All information and research is done by this blogger and not Bishop Museum. If there are any errors (as there may well be) I welcome any corrections.


As a docent it goes without saying that I love museums. Loving museums goes hand in hand with loving history which in turn means I just love artifacts.

So when Bishop Museum offers the opportunity to go into collections and see artifacts up close many of us docents can’t get to that fourth floor inner sanctum fast enough.

©Behind the scenes  at Bishop Museum

Last Thursday, we were invited to check out a few of the Pacific island collections that had just returned from touring China.The Pacific collection is housed in it’s own wing of the museum and it is a selection of precious relics amassed over time beginning in the late 1800’s when the museum first opened.

Right now that wing known as Polynesian Hall is undergoing renovation. This is one of the reasons why the docents were invited to view the halls collection.

The Museum will be displaying a selection of items in “Longs Gallery” and so the docents need to be familiarized with what will be on display. Oh I just love this gig!

So we enter the stark white room after keys and codes are input into the system and the Vice President for Cultural Resources, Betty Kam, slips on her blue gloves and walks us over to the table containing many beautiful objects.

©The artifacts were set up on the table waiting for us

©Close up of Kiwi Cape

©Backing to Kiwi Cape

Lovingly Betty goes over to a feather cape and tells us about it.The cape is Called a Kahu Kiwi and is made from the now endangered Kiwi bird. The feathers are attached in such a way that they curl outwards to that it gives the person wearing it the appearance of looking larger than they are.
In nature the Kiwi also puffs out his feathers so that he too appears larger than he is.

The backing is made of a type of Flax. The Fijians call the flax Harakeke.  The plant and the insects who live on it have a very interesting back ground. If you would like to read about it here is the website. Harakeke/Flax

©Headrest from Fiji

The chief slept with a headdress. When he slept, his head, which was considered sacred,would rest upon this implement so that it would not touch the ground.

It is carved from one piece of wood and sometimes these headrest are decorated with shell or ivory. This particular one is formed by a bar that sits upon a circular support.

©Paddle from Marquesas

©Top of Paddle

The faces on the top of this paddle show a female with rosettes in the hair, eyes, eyebrows and nose and mouth.

©Ear Plug or earrings from the Marquesas

©Close up of ear plug

These particular ear plugs were worn by men. They were inserted into the lobes of the ears. This one is  carved from the tooth of the Sperm whale. The carved figures faced the back and the weighted end faced the front of the lobe.

©Headdress from Marquesas

The headdress is called a pa’e kaha. It is made from clam, turtle and pearl shell lashed together with coconut cordage. The designs on the  turtle shell replicate the tattoo designs found tattooed on the Marquesans. The headdress was worn with plates down covering the eyebrows.

©Table leg carved like a leg from Marquesas

These intricate carvings show the designs that would have been seen on a tattooed leg of the Marquesans. A piece like this might have been made for a table. Such furniture filled a demand in Europe.

©A Maori House post

©Example of the Maori facial tattoo on House post

This was a post to a Whare Nui (Maori Meeting house) It was a gable figure on the house. It represented an ancestor who was greeted with respect as you entered the meeting-house. The figure is carved completely around and with lifelike form and detail.

©Tahitian Tapa or barkcloth

This Tapa or bark cloth made from the Wauke tree or Paper Mulberry is a beautiful example of the cloth that was made by Tahitians. Though we could not touch it, the appearance was that of a very soft material. The background is now faded but was  originally yellow.

©Ceremonial Adze from Austral Islands

©Close up of Adze

Not only were Adze tools they were also very important ceremonial instruments. This adze blade was made of basalt and attached with coconut sennit.

There were many more pieces that we saw and learned about that will be on display. Hopefully some of you can make it when the exhibit is ready.  If your not able to get to the museum and would like to see more of the artifacts you may want to check out the book where I got much of my information from. The book is titled “Splendor of Hawaii and Polynesia”


5 comments on “Entering the Inner Sanctum of Bishop Museum

  1. Thanks Karen, if possible I would love to chat outside this blog about it. Aloha!


  2. I really enjoyed this vicariously!


  3. Beautiful pieces! I would love to see more if possible of artifacts related to Hula.

    Aloha and mahalo for posting!


    • It makes me very happy to read that Peter. It is always a big responsibility for me to get these post just right and I’m sure there are times when I might have missed the mark.

      Yes! I will look into the Hula artifacts. That is a great idea. It will take me some time as I’m always doing the research to get things as proper as I can. I wished I had thought of doing this earlier as they just took the ancient pa’u drum out of exhibit to rest it for awhile. But we have much more and I will investigate for an article. Thank you for the suggestion.


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