Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17, 2010: Oahu - Bishop Museum, Chart House

This morning we attempted to get our marriage license at the Department of Health. But it turned out that they were closed - on furlough. We could, if we really needed to, call up the emergency official and go out to their house to get a license. But we've still got Monday to take care of it, so there was no need to waste our time today on a monumental transit/taxi journey. I am, however, still miffed that my careful planning was foiled.

So Mark headed back to the conference while I went on to Bishop Museum. The museum had been recommended to me by Margot Mackay, one of my medical art professors, so it was high on my list. I was not disappointed - it had a great collection of historical and cultural artifacts from Hawaii and from the rest of the Polynesian islands. There was also an extensive program of tours with some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides I've had yet at a museum - I went on three tours and attended one performance, and all were excellent.

One of the most useful things I learned was the pronunciation of Hawiian words: each vowel is generally pronounced separately (not combined together as in English) and has only one sound (also unlike English). Now I can tackle all the intimidatingly long street names.

Also interesting was the history of the islands: how they came to be united as one kingdom (warfare and truces amongst tribes), then annexed by the United States (hugely unpopular with the Hawaiians) and eventually became a US state (regarded as better than being in some sort of limbo, but not as good as being returned to independent nationhood). The more I learn about it the less Hawaii seems to be American.

The main Hawaiian building was gorgeous - apparently it was closed for extensive renovations, and just reopened recently. The Polynesian exhibits are clearly due for the same make-over - the mustard yellow felt backdrops and faded typed signage looked like relics of the 1970s, although that had its own charm, and the artifacts themselves were still amazing. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City also has a large collection of Polynesian artifacts, but this collection felt more cohesive to me - not sure if that's due to a larger size, or just better organization.

We had dinner at The Chart House with friends from the conference. I got the porkchops with asparagus. Two full-sized chops. Six spears of asparagus (and I may be generously misremembering - it might have been as little as four spears). Where's the option to trade in one of the porkchops for a little more asparagus?! Who needs this much meat?

The main museum hall. It's all native wood, but it had to be shipped to the mainland USA to be carved, then shipped back - expensive.

55-foot-long sperm whale skeleton, purchased from Rochester, NY, then taken cross-country and shipped to Hawaii in 1901 - quite the production at that time.

Kuka'ilimoku, a feathered ancestral deity, at least as old as the early 1800s. Many of the most valuable items in indigenous Hawaiian culture were made of thousands of tiny feathers, such as this figure and cloaks for royalty.

What do you do for weaponry on islands that have no metal? Make them using shark teeth!

Is it wrong that I find this painting on a shell beautiful rather than tacky? It is believed to have been painted by the founder of the museum, Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

My favourite item from the exhibition of botanical illustrations and herbarium specimens is this pressed specimen of a pineapple - ask yourself how you would dry and press flat a pineapple to glue onto a piece of paper?

I love the protest quilts made by Hawaiian women after annexation - flying the Hawaiian flag was made illegal, so they sewed them into quilts instead.

Kahili - a collection of the feather standards of royalty. Very elaborate arrangement of feathers, yet it's the poles that are actually the significant item - they were named, passed down through generations, acquired mystique - whereas the feathers could be replaced. I've never really seen anything like these.

A sweet potato god, from the older displays in the Polynesian hall. Isn't this the cutest scene ever? The mustard yellow felt, the hand-created signage with the rounded corners, and then the carving itself! I love out-dated museum displays.

Another amusing display in the Polynesian hall - the items may be gone, but their ghostly silhouettes remain behind on the faded felt backgrounds.

Carving of a leg - is it meant to represent tattooing? It isn't known for certain, but tattooing was a popular form of ornamentation.

Truly eerie masks and costumes for use in the tamate dance of Vanikoro. I can't imagine them being anything but frightening, but the dance is apparently comic entertainment.

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