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Historical Hawaii: New Lyman Museum gallery portrays five different time periods

After four years of designing, discussions and construction, the Lyman Museum in Hilo has reopened its second floor with an elaborate and modern Island Heritage Gallery.

The floor previously was home to a gallery with a similar concept, which was created in the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Although museum patrons enjoyed the second floor, the content started to become outdated.

The new exhibit tells the story of Hawaiian history and culture from the arrival of the Polynesians, through the settlement and development of what would become the Hawaiian local culture, to the end with the Hawaiian Renaissance and modern day.

“What we wanted to accomplish with this exhibit was to display the journey of Hawaiian culture through the entire arc of the history of the islands into the present day,” said Barbara Moir, president and executive director of the Lyman Museum. “It takes visitors on a multifaceted, multicultural trip through the history of the Hawaiian islands.”

The gallery is divided between five different time periods to help organize the different impacts the archipelago has endured over hundreds of years.

“From the Sea We Came” tells the story of the few dozen Polynesian settlers who developed their own culture after arriving on the island at about A.D. 1000, to the complex sociopolitical system of several hundred thousand people by the 1700s.

The second section, called the “Agents of Change,” explores the history and impacts of the arrival of missionaries, whalers and other foreign influences from the Western world after Captain James Cook landed in Hawaii in 1778.

The third section delves into the “Plantation Era,” which began in the mid-1800s and is of particular importance to the culture of the Big Island, with the development of sugar plantations and eventual labor unions.

The section also explores the recruitment of foreign workers, particularly from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and Puerto Rico, and how immigration drastically changed the islands’ demographics and culture into the early 20th century.

The fourth section, “From Monarchy to Statehood,” follows the impacts of the change from monarchy to statehood, from Kamehameha I’s unification of the islands in 1810 until Hawaii’s annexation in 1959.

The final section is called “Hawaiian Renaissance” and explores the cultural resurgence and growing interest in the Hawaiian language, music, art and traditional practices, beginning in the late 1960s. The original Island Heritage Gallery only featured history through the plantation era and did not delve into the Hawaiian Renaissance and the transition to modern day.

For four years, museum employees, cultural specialists, historians, experts and community members formed a community advisory group that worked together to design the exhibit and decide what would be included in the gallery.

“We wanted to create a special gallery that would compliment the Earth Heritage Gallery downstairs,” Moir said. “We wanted people, whether they be kamaaina, immigrant descendants or tourists, to find something they didn’t know before and to be inspired to think about the exhibit in the context of their own heritage and ancestry.”

The significance of the changing culture of the islands is apparent when walking through the gallery. Many outside influences, like the arrival of missionaries and foreign workers, shifted the local Hawaiian culture into what it has become today.

“When studying anthropology, I found that if culture doesn’t change, it dies. But that does not mean you abandon the root values of that culture,” Moir said. “We wanted to do our best to show how the influences of forces that came to bear on the Hawaiian Islands helped create the culture we see today.”

Large maps, beautiful murals and photographs, storytelling videos, artifacts and hands-on materials in the gallery provide a very clear story of the Hawaiian Islands through the context of the Big Island.

“Every single part of Hawaii Island has something so special and so attractive about it. That’s why those of us who live here, live here,” Moir said. “So, we wanted to tell the story of the whole archipelago through the lens of Hawaii Island, because this is where we live.”

Within the Hawaiian Renaissance section of the gallery is a kipuka for children to learn about Hawaiian culture through hands-on activities.

“Along with historical and cultural experts, we also had educational specialists help with developing the kipuka as a hands-on space in the gallery,” Moir said. “We wanted children to have a chance to do something with their hands for kinetic learning.”

A TV screen with 18 local faces is found at the end of the exhibit. Visitors can click on a face they want to hear from, and an audio file by that person will play. The people involved talk about their origins in Hawaii and what they hope for the future.

The budgeted cost of the entire gallery is $2.6 million, and the museum still has a few hundred thousand dollars yet to raise.

The Lyman Museum received $1 million from the state Legislature in the form of two grants of $500,000 given in two years.

The rest of the money has been donated through several organizations, board members and community members, according to Moir.

The museum will kick off a program in the next few weeks to help raise the rest of the funds for the gallery.

Foundations, businesses and private individuals will have an opportunity to donate $1,000 to $5,000 to have a tile with their name on it permanently installed in the entrance of the museum.

“We are really excited and proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with this gallery,” Moir said. “This is really an homage to the roots of Native Hawaiians as well as the other ethnic groups that contributed food, religion, customs, celebrations and language, to create the culture and sense of community we see today.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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