WASHINGTON – While 80,000 people celebrated the National Museum of the American Indian's opening last week,a smaller but equally enthusiastic crowd celebrated an opening to honor another indigenous group – Native Hawaiians.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History on Friday held a special viewing of the new exhibition “Na Mea Makamae o Hawaii – Hawaiian Treasures” and a showing of the film “The Hawaiians – Reflecting Spirit.”
“Hawaiian Treasures,” located in the museum's Pacific Hall,is centered around a 19-foot outrigger canoe Queen Kapi’olani gave the museum in 1887. Museum officials believe it is the oldest existing boat of its type.
The exhibit includes 70 other objects from the Smithsonian's collections,including wooden bowls and a feathered cape from the Kalakaua royal family.
Pacific Hall was closed for a month while museum staff set up the Hawaiian exhibit.
Adrienne Kaeppler,curator of oceanic ethnology,oversaw the exhibit and said her work was “a privilege.”
“The NMAI doesn't have a Hawaiian collection,so I felt Hawaii needed to be represented on the Mall,” she said.
David Evans,undersecretary for science at the Smithsonian,said at the celebration that “Hawaiian Treasures” is complementary to the new museum.
“It's the first ever exhibit solely devoted to Hawaii,” Evans said.
With the Natural History Museum's Rotunda bathed in purple light,Hawaiians from the islands as well as the Washington-area gave the room a lively atmosphere with hulas,chanting and singing.
Those attending the ceremony enjoyed luau food – including whole roasted pigs and coconut pudding squares – while tapping their toes to gourd drum rhythms and tinkling ukuleles.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Edgy Lee,who is a Native Hawaiian,directed “The Hawaiians – Reflecting Spirit,” which the crowd of 300 viewed in the museum's Baird Auditorium.
Lee said she was happy to be able to show the film,which took four months to complete. Such an endeavor usually takes a year.
Clyde Namu’o,administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,said Lee was the “best director for the film” because she showed the “deeper parts” of Hawaiian culture.
“It brings greater attention to the struggling indigenous people of Hawaii,” Namu’o said.
Haunani Apoliona,OHA chairperson,said “Hawaiian Treasures” and the NMAI have the Aloha Spirit in common.
“Our hope is that our cultural heritage will remind all of us to work together in our common efforts to determine direction for the future,” she said. “Our collective effort will certainly carry us forward.”
“Hawaiian Treasures” will be open until May,when Pacific Hall and adjacent halls are to be demolished,Kaeppler said. The exhibit's future after that is unclear.