Tuesdays at Bishop Museum



My mind has become very dull. I need to challenge it. By dull, I mean giving children’s tours at Bishop museum has made me complacent. Giving adult tours always keeps me on my toes.

Fridays at Bishop have an abundance of docents and none want to give up their public tours. Not many want to do the children’s tours either. So when the museum re-opened their doors on Tuesdays I jumped at the chance. I knew I would once again be able to do regular adult, public tours.

After the museum had closed it’s doors on Tuesdays, for financial reasons, a way was found to once again welcome the public back that week day.

Kids aren’t my thing. As I had said my brain was starting to atrophy having to talk down to them. When I did get to substitute on Fridays and do adults I was finding I was having a hard time describing artifacts and culture in a more mature way.

Now having started in the last part of 2015 on Tuesdays I am once again researching and trying to switch my tours up to a more interesting subject to keep adults interested. I am not complaining. I love research but the funny thing is I’ve discovered I miss the kids. So starting the first of January we started booking them once again now on Tuesdays.

Guess who is able to do both children and adults? Me! With mixed feelings I have started back with the kids with the provision that I still get to do one public tour each week along with the kids. My brain is being challenged. I do realize now that it takes just as much work to keep the kids interested as it does adults.

Today on my children’s and adult tours I stopped to talk about the Hale Pili. I always ask the children what they think this particular Hale (house) was used for. You can read about it in this past post https://kareninhonolulu.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=524&action=edit

Today with the adults it was interesting as they asked questions I was not prepared for.


It was a simple question and one that I could not answer. So I had to do research. Someone had asked me where did the adult children who married go when they needed their own houses. Hmmm. Well I knew families did stay together but just how?

What I found was they added on a hale or house in the compound where the parents lived with other families or they built a large Hale to accommodate everyone.  I found this quote from the book ” Arts and Crafts of Hawaii” on page 77,  amusing. “…some persons had no houses but lived on the hospitality of others,” and he refers to such person contemptuously as “o-kea-ili-mai (drift gravel) and “uni-pehiiole” (stone to throw at a rat).” Even back then they had the problems with unwanted guest.

On further research I found hales had one door. It was a very low door so that you had to crawl into the sleeping house. This had a purpose. When winds would blow it helped to keep them from wafting through the dwelling. Also in the middle of the sleeping hale was a small pit to keep a fire burning throughout the night. Though it helped to heat the area its main purpose was to keep spirits that roamed during the night out of the house.

There were many common areas too that everyone shared so it was just a matter of one or two houses being needed for sleeping. Cooking was done by the men, women ate together with the very young children in their own hale, and men ate together in theirs. They had hales for fishing equipment, working on household items such as kapa, baskets and mats.

I never thought about this but it makes sense. They did not have problems with bugs or pest coming into the sleeping hale at night because they did not have any. It was not until the Europeans and whalers started to arrive bringing pest and illnesses with them.

The larger introduced animals also meant big problems as they started to eat the grass off of the Hawaiian’s dwellings! They also ate the grasses and leaves used to make the hales. It gave new meaning to being eaten out of house and home.

I am so happy to be back to the public tours and having this one simple question has given me much to add to my bag of tricks so to speak. I know the kids will really enjoy hearing about the cows eating the houses. Oh those kids they laugh at the darnedest things.

Information about the Hales comes from the book “Hawaiian Culture”page 198-201

Museum Treasures

A docent let Garden Tour in front of Bishop Museum

At Bishop Museum the main attraction is the museum itself. It was built from 1888 to 1903 in three different increments. So in 2005 it was decided that Hawaiian Hall, the main hall of the museum, was in much need of restoration.

The Hall was to be closed to the public. This was as much to the docents chagrin as to the public’s. When the hall was closed there would be no more tours of the coming of the whalers, immigrants nor Hawaiian artifacts. For three years we would peek through the windows of the closed doors trying to get a sense of what was going on.

The tint and dull light only reflected the big eye of the sperm whale hanging from the rafters staring into space.

The sperm whale was installed in 1901 after having traveled from New York across country and overseas. Thank goodness it did not have to go around the cape. The actual skeleton is on the other side of this paper mache body.

With the Hall closed and many, many disappointed visitors the docents had to change their tours to try and make up for the loss. The museum put special artifacts and shows together for us to talk about and that we did. But for me I loved to talk about the archetecture of the building. The fact that all of the basalt was quarried right in front of the stately building. The roof was made of copper the floor tiles were picked out in Italy.

Charles Bishop spared no expense to build the museum named in honor of his late wife, Princess Pauahi. All of the Koa wood (acacia) was cut down from Princess Pauahiʻs  vast estate then sent to Minnesota to be milled because it was said that the finest carpenters, who were the Swedes, were there.

My favortie story though, was how the people who were working on the restoration were in a quandry as to how they would cut off the entrance to Hawaiian Hall from the rest of the museum without it looking unsightly.

Iʻm not sure who was standing in the entrance that divided the vestubule and the hall but he was pondering the question, as the story goes. He looked to his side and saw a piece of hardwear between the wall. He asked “what is this” and proceeded to pull out a huge copper door. This door had been installed between the wall   when the hall was first built. It had never been seen since that time and was a complete surprise to the staff.

This door had been put in along with another of its kind at the other entrance to the hall and there remained until 2006. I had read that Bishop was so afraid of a fire destroying all of the artifacts that besides building the museum in stone he had these copper doors installed.

The copper doors and some of the restored Koa post at the bottom of the stairs.

Now I donʻt know how true this story is but it is one I often talk about and Iʻve not heard differently. But if any of you do know what the real story is, please donʻt tell me, us docents have to have our little asides.

The museum in all of itʻs restored glory has been open for two years now and we couldn’t be happier. All three floors now display Hawaiian artifacts. It starts with Kai Akea, the realm of the ocean, the second floor is called Wao Kanaka, the realm of the Hawaiian and Wao Lani, the realm of the kings and queens and their connection to the gods.

May I give you a tour?