LIHUE — Maryanne Kusaka, president of the Kauai Museum board of directors, said Saturday was a very important day.
As words of tribute to Liholiho, also known as Kamehameha II, floated on the rapidly warming morning air, the phones at the museum were ringing in the back rooms.
“While people were observing the blessing and protocol, I was busy answering the phones,” said Lani Kaui of the Kauai Museum. “People are calling to ask about when they can see the relics. They want to know when it will be available for viewing.”
Following weeks of work uncrating and cataloging, the historic relics of Haaheo were carefully placed in three cases especially made to house them, and blessed before a solemn but excited audience. The event was led by kumu Lopaka Bukoski and enhanced by the attendance of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Kaumualii Chapter.
“We are host,” said Chucky Boy Chock, a consultant with the museum. “We are excited with the three cases of artifacts we have. There are two more cases being built to house the contents from three more containers of artifacts which will be sent to us from the Smithsonian Institute. We will do our best to malama this.”
The unveiling put the artifacts recovered from an 1824 shipwreck of a Hawaiian king’s yacht on view for the museum’s patrons.
Cleopatra’s Barge, a brigantine rig costing about $50,000, was built in Massachusetts in 1816. It became the Royal Yacht of King Kamehamea II, also known as Liholiho, who named it Haaheo O Hawaii, translated to mean “Pride of Hawaii.”
The ship was purchased in 1820 with about a million pounds of sandalwood, said Paul Johnston, a curator with the Smithsonian who was part of the recovery efforts.
It ran aground on a reef in Hanalei Bay on April 6, 1824, for reasons which remain topics of conversation even today.
Sections of the ship were recovered in 1857, and in January 1994, Paul Forsythe of the Smithsonian’s Institute National Museum of American History applied for the first underwater archaeological permits in Hawaii.
Capt. Rick Rogers of the Pilialoha and local resident Sam Mahuiki, both swarmed by guests at the unveiling protocol, were instrumental in the recovery of the many artifacts. The recovery project started in July 1955 and ended in 2000.
“We don’t know what else is coming,” Chock said. “The Kauai Museum will receive a total of seven cases of artifacts in total. We recently received four cases, and there are three more on the way. This is definitely an exciting and important day for us.”