When They Call, You Must Go

This is an experience I had years back when Hawaiian Hall at Bishop Museum was undergoing restoration. I love these experiences and enjoy sharing them. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

The sun was out, and the whole Koolau range was in view. Sun and blue skies equal no people at the museum. As I stood in the main entrance a few people passed into the Kahili room. Maybe a couple viewed the art in the vestibule.

In the quiet I heard someone singing. Now you have to remember that lots of people have had ghostly experiences in this hall and I was not sure what I heard. But the sound was definitely there. Then it became muffled. I didn’t want to trudge up the two flights of stairs to check what was going on. The only people who had ventured to the upper exhibit area was a very pleasant Hawaiian couple.
But I still heard the singing and it was coming from above. I called over to security and told them to look into their cameras to see if someone was singing in the photo gallery.
“Yeah, someone is, let me get one of the security over there.”
Now I could hear the singing clearer and it sounded like chanting. The young guard came through the main doors and headed up the stairs. Soon the chanting became louder and I was curious. So I ascended the stairs also.
The doors to the exhibit hall had been closed and now one was ajar. I knew that they were supposed to be opened. I entered and saw the guard talking to the male of the Hawaiian Couple. The woman was in a corner, arms raised in supplication, moving gracefully,chanting. I approached the guard who was now in a mildly heated conversation.
The Hawaiian man was being told that he could not be chanting or singing or doing anything in the museum without permission and that they had to leave.
In the past there have been demonstrations and even artifacts have disappeared and the guard was worried that this could be some kind of demonstration. The gentleman was stating that the things of the museum were part of his ancestry and he gestured around the room.
The woman was still chanting as the discussion went on and then the security received a call from the office asking what was status of the situation. He stated that a woman and man were singing and he was trying to get them to leave.
I on the other hand saw that they were chanting as I had seen many times before in the museum. I did not feel that they were protesters but that they were paying their respects. Although other chanters always requested permission before doing so.
After a time the woman finished and came over to us and started speaking Hawaiian. I only understood a word here and there but, really, had no idea what she was saying. When all was said and done it was explained that she had come to say a prayer or a pule. At least that is what I think she said.
They were from the island of Hawaii. The woman said that she had been called by the spirits of her Kupuna or ancestors. They had been appealing to her to please come to the museum as they were being neglected and hid away. She said that she came to reassure them and to honor them and help them to be at peace. Now she is telling me this in half English and half Hawaiian so I am not sure that I got it all correct. I just knew that maybe my boss, Kealoha, would arrive soon as he would know how to interact.
Really the chanting was beautiful and she was graceful and kind. And I guess when it comes to the Hawaiian culture my heart goes out to that community for all the suffering that has taken place in the past. I knew that once Kealoha arrived  he would make it all well.
I mentioned that though nothing was wrong with chanting and that what she was doing was fine they just needed to make arrangements and then I explained to her why the room that she was in was so changed. She was upset at seeing all of the artifacts, that were once in the room, were gone and it was now just paintings. She felt that was why she was being called. I told her that the room had been restored to its original condition like it was when the Museum opened in 1898.
I told her that many things were going to be different once all restoration was finished and that much more of the Hawaiian artifacts were going to be brought out that weren’t displayed before. She was very happy to hear that and asked if she could go on to the other exhibit areas. I said it was fine as long as she didn’t chant and that Kealoha would be in soon and she could talk to him.
As I got  back to the main floor many people had arrived and so I announced that I would be doing a tour and people began to gather. As I started to talk, Kealoha and the Hawaiian couple entered into the Kahili room. Soon sounds of chanting could be heard. All the heads turned. I explained what it was and let them listen for a while which they did with much appreciation.
As I was into the middle of my tour the coupled left and nodded as they headed out the door. I felt good, I believe the kupuna, also, felt good, and certainly the visitors enjoyed witnessing a bit of the Hawaiian culture. I love it when that happens.
The ancestors had called, they were heard and she answered.
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2 comments on “When They Call, You Must Go

  1. dunelight says:

    It is so important to be sensitive to the cultures of others. Interesting story.

    Like

  2. Thank you for sharing such an fascinating and educational experience. Interesting about getting permission to chant in the museum but what a treat for your visitors, for a moment the museum came alive.

    Like

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