When many visitors come to Kauai, they want to know about the island’s past. They want to know how the people lived, what they did and how Kauai was different from other islands.
“And we intend to show them that,” said Maryanne Kusaka, board president of the Kauai Museum.
The museum took a step in that direction with the dedication of a new Hawaiian palm thatched house on Tuesday. It’s on display in the Heritage Gallery, which is being transformed into a showcase room for Kauai and Niihau artifacts only.
Kusaka said the plan is to bring the museum’s Hawaiian collection from the back building and highlight it near the front entrance. New pieces will be moved in gradually over the next six to eight months.
“When our children come from schools, we want them to be well acquainted with the way Kauai was in the past. And we also want our visitors to enjoy our history,” she said.
The “Hawaiian Hale,” also referred to as a Hale Hiamoe, a Sleeping House, was designed by Kaina Makau, who spent months gathering the different pieces. The humble hut is filled with history, inside and out.
Its palm leaves were once used to signify a chiefly shelter. Two types of wood — ‘A‘ali‘i and Iron Wood, were used to build the house. ‘A‘ali‘i is native to Hawaii and is abundant on Kauai at higher elevations, such as Kokee. Iron Wood is an invasive tree that is not only abundant but also strong and durable. The cordage used to lash together the various pieces is known as para cord.
The interior of the house had few furnishings. There were woven lauhala mats for the floor, more mats and tapa for the beds, pillows, storage calabashes and baskets and a fire pit. A stone lamp with a tapa wick was filled with kukui nut or kamani oil.
Dan Ahuna, trustee of Kauai and Niihau with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said they were pleased to fund the project. It’s important Kauai share its past and teach where its people came from as it prepares for the future. The Kauai Museum, which is in its 54th year and is also in the midst of an expansion plan, is a wonderful place to link the past, present and future, he added.
“The people of our past are the same people here today,” he said. “I just wanted to honor them and make sure we remember the people who were here. Kauai is rich with a lot of history.”
For Hawaiians, honoring its past is one of its greatest cultural traditions, Ahuna said. Kauai, he said, is particularly proud of its past.
“We still believe we’re unconquered,” he said.
But he said the main purpose of the Hawaiian Hale being showcased along with artifacts from Kauai and Niihau is to bring unification. Ahuna said he would love to see OHA partner with the museum to allow keiki, guests and residents to visit, learn, explore and celebrate everything that is Kauai and Niihau.
“It’s about being one,” Ahuna said. “Everything is about alignment.”