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Places On Oahu: The Bishop Museum

Basic Information

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Narrative

When my family and I lived in Colorado we enjoyed going to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science whenever we wanted due to the annual membership that I bought.  My kids had a lot of fun at the museum plus they learned a lot.  Additionally there was still plenty of interesting things for adults like my wife and I to see at the museum as well.  In Hawaii one of the go-to locations to take my family to has been the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

This Museum is nowhere near as expansive and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, but it is still a fun place to visit and well worth the $110 annual membership fee.  The focus of the museum is rightfully on Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.  All the displays for this portion of the Bishop Museum can be seen in this historic building constructed back in 1889:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is a history of the Bishop Museum from Wikipedia:

Charles Reed Bishop (1822–1915), a businessman and philanthropist, co-founder of the First Hawaiian Bank and Kamehameha Schools, built the museum in memory of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop (1831–1884). Born into the royal family, she was the last legal heir of the Kamehameha Dynasty, which had ruled the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi between 1810 and 1872. Bishop had originally intended the museum to house family heirlooms passed down to him through the royal lineage of his wife.

Bishop hired William Tufts Brigham as the first curator of the Museum; Brigham later served as director from 1898 until his retirement in 1918.

The museum was built on the original boys’ campus of Kamehameha Schools, an institution created at the bequest of the Princess, to benefit native Hawaiian children; she gave details in her last will and testament. In 1898, Bishop had Hawaiian Hall and Polynesian Hall built on the campus, in the popular Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser newspaper dubbed these two structures as “the noblest buildings of Honolulu”.

Today both halls are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hawaiian Hall is home to a complete sperm-whaleskeleton, accompanied by a papier-mâché body suspended above the central gallery. Along the walls are prized koawood display cases; today this wood in total is worth more than the original Bishop Museum buildings.  [Wikipedia]

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The historic building is today packed with quite possibly the most impressive collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Inside the hall there is a replica of what a traditional Hawaiian house would have looked like:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The traditional Hawaiian houses were not very big or elaborate, but considering Hawaii’s excellent weather they probably spent little time indoors anyway.  Here is a model of what one of the traditional Hawaiian heiau temples would have looked like:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

I have been to quite a few of the remains of various heiaus so it was cool to see what one would have actually looked like.  The museum also does a good job of describing the different Hawaiian Gods.  Here is a large wooden depiction of the God Ku:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Picture from the Bishop Museum

What I found interesting about these Hawaiian Gods is that they each take turns being the supreme God based on star patterns and seasons.  This next large tiki on display is of the God Lono:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Picture from the Bishop Museum

What makes Lono so significant is that British explorer Captain James Cook was mistaken for being Lono when he arrived in Hawaii during the season of Lono.  He was treated lavishly because of this.  However, when he departed and was struck by a storm this caused his ship to become damaged.  This forced him to return to Hawaii.  For the Hawaiians it was no longer the season of Lono and if Cook was a God as previously believed how did his ship get damaged?  This in turn caused the Hawaiians to realize he was not a God and tensions flared because of this.  It ultimately led to quite possibly the greatest explorer ever loosing his life on the Hawaiian Big Island due to a squabble over a missing oar boat that turned violent.

This next God they had on display was Kaneikokala:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The discovery of this artifact is actually quite interesting since it was discovered by a native born Hawaiian who claimed the God came to him in his dream and guided him to the location of the artifact.  Kaneikokala was brought to the Bishop Museum in 1908:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Another God on display was Moo the Lizard God:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Picture from the Bishop Museum

When I saw this God I could not help, but think he looked just like a classic space alien you see in the movies.  Something else I saw displayed in the museum were belongings of the great Duke Kahanamoku:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Kahanamoku is one of the most famous native Hawaiians in history due to his surfing background and the fact he was a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming.  He would go on to appears in various movies and even became the Sheriff of Honolulu from 1931-1962.  Quite an amazing life the Duke lived:

Duke Kahanamoku in 1912 via Wikipedia.
Duke Kahanamoku in 1912 via Wikipedia.

Over in the Kahili Room this where I was able to learn all I ever wanted to know about the royal Kamehameha family that once ruled Hawaii:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

There were five Kamehameha kings to have ruled Hawaii and each had a portrait with a plaque that explained their history.  Here is Kamehameha the First who was the first Hawaiian to unite the islands under one King after launching bloody campaigns against his rivals:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is Kamehameha II who is the person responsible for ending the traditional Hawaiian religious structure that once practiced human sacrifice:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is Kamehameha III:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is Kamehameha IV:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is Kamehameha V:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The room also has displays of other rulers that followed the Kamehameha line of kings and other royal family members.  The room I found to be quite fascinating and well worth reading through all the markers with each display.

Within the main display area the Bishop Museum happens to have an example of a royal feather helmet and cloak on display:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is short history of these items that are on loan from a museum in New Zealand:

In 1779, the reigning chief of Hawai‘i Island, Kalani‘ōpu‘u, who traced his regal line to the great chief Līloa of Waipiʻo, greeted an English captain named James Cook after his ship made port in Kealakekua Bay. As a demonstration of his goodwill, Kalani‘ōpu‘u gifted the ‘ahu ʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (feathered helmet) he was wearing to Captain Cook, draping the cloak upon Cook’s shoulders.  [Bishop Museum]

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The best feature of the museum is that they regularly rotate various exhibits to where it seems like there is always something new to see.  The current exhibit is called Planet Shark:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The display was actually very cool to check out.  We learned a lot about sharks as well as seeing some Jaws movie memorabilia:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Another interesting exhibit recently on display was the Hawaiian bird display:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

I learned quite a bit about native Hawaiian birds and just how precarious their lives in the islands are with so many of them going extinct or near extinction:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Some of the reasons for the birds going extinct was hunting for native cloaks as well as introduced predators.  However, the biggest reason for the birds going extinct which I was surprised by was the introduction of malaria from mosquitos that the birds had no immunity against:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here is a wall that shows all the various native birds that have gone extinct:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The best exhibit we have seen at the museum is when they had expansive display of various dinosaurs:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

My kids absolutely loved seeing all the dinosaurs, especially the ones that were robotic and moved around:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Not all the exhibits that pass through are that good to check out.  For example the candy exhibit in my opinion was not appropriate for a museum:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

I thought this exhibit reminded me of something I would see at a shopping mall during the Christmas season:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Probably the worst exhibition I have seen at the Bishop Museum is the one they had about wearable art:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

The costume designs were absolutely horrible and I did not see any educational value in the displays:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

It seems to me that an exhibition at a prominent museum like this should at least have some kind of educational value.  Maybe I am just a rube and just don’t understand the educational value of art like this?:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

On the far side of the museum campus is the Science Adventure Center.  Here is a view from the Science Adventure Center looking back towards the main exhibition buildings of the Bishop Museum:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Here there is a lot of interesting displays about the geology of Hawaii.  Everything you ever wanted to know about volcanoes and lava can be found in the Science Adventure Center.  There is even a model volcano for kids to explore.  Something I highly recommend seeing is the special lava demonstration they do each day at noon:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

One of the museum workers first gives a presentation about Hawaii’s volcanoes and then boils rocks into molten lava and then pours it for the audience to see:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

My kids always fascinated by the lava show no matter how many times we see it.  Finally after long hours of checking out the museum I highly recommend eating at their cafe.  It is some of the best local food I have eaten in Oahu:

Picture from the Bishop Museum

This is because the museum has teamed up with a local favorite restaurant to restart the cafe:

Bishop Museum is excited to announce a new partnership with Highway Inn, a kama‘āina favorite since 1947! Highway Inn will operate the Bishop Museum Café.

A limited menu of Hawaiian plates, poke bowls, sandwiches, and snacks will be available in the current café location from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily.  [Bishop Museum]

Picture from the Bishop Museum

Conclusion

I highly recommend that both locals and tourists alike make a visit to the Bishop Museum.  There is more to Hawaii than just great beaches, mega-resorts, luaus and hula dancers.  Spending half a day at the Bishop Museum gives people a better appreciation of both the cultural and natural history of these incredible islands.  Plus you can cap off your visit with some great local food at the cafe.

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

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