Discover Hawaiian and Polynesian History at Bishop Museum

Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was the last descendent of the Kamehameha Royal Family. All remaining family treasures and heirlooms gathered from the past were left in her possession. When she died, she left instructions for her husband, philanthropist Charles Reed Bishop, to make her items available to “enrich and delight” the people of Hawaii. This led to the building of the striking Hawaiian and Polynesian Halls of the Bishop Museum completed in 1898, in the beautiful (and very un-Hawaiian) Richardsonian Romanesque style.

(Left) The inside-out of Bishop Museum. (Right) Find beautiful details in everything there.

Both buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is tucked out of view at the base of the Likelike Highway (Rt 63) in the Kalihi neighborhood. The museum consists of grounds, a hall for the main collection, a planetarium and a science adventure center for the child in all of us. Being the largest museum in the state, it gives us access, in person and online, to historical oral and visual archives. It’s the place to see extinct plant and animal specimens, and if you’ve found something of interest while here on the island, they will help to identify it. Why, you could make history, and I would highly recommend spending some time looking over the downloadable archives. These are fascinating peaks into Hawaiian life of a century ago.

Right off the bat, you should know that the admission fees might give pause. It costs about $18 (adults) and $15 (children, ages 4-12). They offer kamaaina, military and group rates, as well. It is worth it, especially for history and archeology buffs, but I went on a review site to see what actual tourists thought of it. They overwhelmingly gave it thumbs up. But also, they made it clear that this outing takes time to appreciate and a lot of reading. It took me hours to get through the collection in the main hall. It is beautifully lined in display cases made of rare koa wood that, according to Wikipedia, are worth more than the building they are in.

(Clockwise from top left) China collectors alert! A pattern used by Queen Emma circa 1880; Mulberry bark kapa cloth; Grass shack moved from Kauai circa 1890.

The Planetarium show I saw, although geared for children, taught me a thing or two about the Hawaiian sky. Did you know Hawaii is the only state where the Southern Cross constellation can be seen, and it was used for navigation across the South Pacific? Lacking any type of instrument, only the stars were used in sailing when Hawaii was first populated. The Bishop is now on the recommended list for all my visitors, but especially those who desire a slow-paced, educational and air conditioned outing as a break from a day of water, sun and sand. (Clockwise from top left) A sunny day at Bishop Museum; Inside of a volcano replica; The Planetarium showcases Hawaiian skies; Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop kindly shared her family’s possessions with the world.

BISHOP MUSEUM • 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • Opens Wed-Mon 9am-5pm; Closed Tuesday and Christmas Day • 808-847-3511 • For admission rates, visit • Available parking; near bus route

Posted by: Bruce Fisher