Kauai Museum shares the history and culture of Kauai and Ni’ihau people

LIHUE — Nestled in the heart of Lihue, Kauai Museum is a time portal to the island’s past.

The museum welcomes about 25,000 people a year to experience the unique culture and history of the people of Kauai and Ni’ihau at its 22,000-square-foot facility.

“Here at the Kauai Museum, we tell the stories of Kauai and Niihau,” said the museum’s executive director Chucky Boy Chock. “That is our kuleana, that is our

responsibility to tell that story.”

Proudly displayed in the center of the main gallery are preserved artifacts from the infamous ship Ha’aheo o Hawaii, the luxury vessel King Kamehameha II used to abduct Kauai’s King Kaumuali’i in 1821, also known as the Pride of Hawaii. Smithsonian archaeologists excavated the Hanalei Bay shipwreck nearly two centuries later and recently delivered even more of the rare discoveries to the museum.

“The difference between us and other museums on the other islands is Kaumuali’i,” Chock said. “He is the center piece, the star here.”

Colorful paintings by Evelyn Ritter depicting Kaumuali’i and other historical events adorn the museum walls. More paintings by renowned artist Laka Morton portray earlier ruling family members of Kauai and Ni’ihau.

“We invited the kupuna, the elders, and twice they came back to hear the stories again,” Chock said. “Now that was remarkable. They sat and cried joyful tears. It was so beautiful to see that. Kauai Museum is such a wonderful place to visit.”

The historic Wilcox Building includes a Heritage Gallery with photo archives from the 1800s, ancient pohaku ku’i poi chiseled stone poi pounders, beautifully handcrafted ’umeke koa, kou and milo bowls, large gourd drums called ipu heke and much more. Its Ali’i Gallery educates about the island’s evolution through outside influences, while a royal olo made of wiliwili wood signifies their important cultural connection to the sea.

“The museum has three blocks as we like to describe it: the Hawaiian block, the immigrant block and the missionary block,” Chock said.“Those blocks have hundreds and hundreds of stories.”

The adjacent Rice Building houses the Plantation Village Gallery (immigrant block) with recreated scenes and stories of the early1900’s. Its Missionary Gallery (missionary block) teaches about the first families that came to Kauai and Niihau to transform their beliefs.

A new surfing exhibit is in the works to honor Duke Kahanamoku and Champions of Kauai and Ni’ihau with surf memorabilia, including a winning surfboard from world champion Andy Irons and a specially designed one-armed wetsuit from Kauai’s inspirational pro surfer Bethany Hamilton. Other future plans include the addition of a new Exhibit Center with an elevator to allow disabled individuals to access the two-story building.

The price of admission is $15 with discounts for seniors, active military, students, and children. All paid admission qualifies for a seven-day pass, and residents of Kauai and Ni’ihau get in free on Kama’aina Saturdays with a valid driver’s license.

Its staff and volunteers provided specialized tours for 745 school children last year, and its educational programs connect with many more students regularly. The Ha’aheo o Hawaii outreach drew more than 1,000 students, in addition to the Student Art Contest, Keiki La Lei Contest, Haku Lei Making, and Voyager Passportbooklets.

“We’ve teamed up with the Voyaging Society, they have a representative named Steve Soltysik that will go out to the schools to teach about the stars and the migration and how our seafarers navigated without the compasses,” Chock said. “For the second year now, we have a team led by Zenon Wong and Gordon Doo that goes to all the schools on the island and teaches them about the sunkenship, Ha’aheo o Hawaii.”

The museum also offers daily activities for all ages, including Wednesday hula classes hosted by the Daughters of Hawaii and taught by Puni Patrick. Saturdays there’s live Hawaiian music by Larry Rivera following throw-net making demonstrations by Uncle Charlie “the Master” Perreira. The museum also hosts festivals to authentically honor communities from each wave of immigrant cultures.

The renovated and upgraded building continues to expand to show its growing collection ever since a 1954 committee formed by Juliet Rice Wichman and Dora Jane Isenberg Cole raised funds to create the museum. Designed by architect Kenneth Roerig, the historical building opened its doors in December 1960.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this wonderful institution, it really is,” Chock said. “It’s exciting to be here knowing that every artifact tells beautiful stories. The culture and heritage here lives on through that artifacts and through our team of wonderful employees, great docents and awesome volunteers.”

Chock started as a volunteer about 8 years ago.

“From the first day I stepped into this museum it was like writing music a passion of mine. I know in my heart what a wonderful place this is to be a part of,” he said. “One thing led to another, and today I’m humbled to be the Eexecutive director. It’s writing music every single day.”

The nonprofit museum on Rice Street is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but closed Sundays and all major holidays. Its quaint gift shop sells educational books, Hawaiian music, clothing made by Tutuvi, Noa Noa, Mohihi, jams and jellies, coffee, tea, Hawaiian made jewelry, and carvings from Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Aotearoa also Pupu o Ni`ihau many other items to perpetuate the language and the culture.

“Every person that comes through here is a bridge builder for us,” Chock said. “They’re our ambassadors. We want them to feel the aloha spirit when they come here and take it home with them.”

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