The Lyman Museum in Hawaii

While in Hawaii a few weeks ago, I made a visit to an unassuming little museum in Hilo. To my surprise the Lyman museum, contained a pretty interesting exhibition that included dress and adornment. The museum itself was divided into two sections, the Earth Sciences of Hawaii(on the first floor) and Hawaiian Cultural Heritage (on the second floor). There was also a special photography exhibition (Na Pa`i Ki`i `o Brother Bertram).

The Cultural Heritage section on the second floor seemed to focus on traditional and ethnic costume as well as adornment. Not only did this part of the museum explain significant elements of traditional Hawaiian dress, textiles and adornment; but it also included a large section with examples of traditional dress worn by the five main immigrant groups who worked in the sugar industry in the 19th Century.

In the traditional Hawaiian dress section, the exhibit included examples of Kapa cloth, which was used primarily for “men’s loin cloths (mal), women’s skirts (pa’u), and Mantles (kihei). Kapa was made from the mulberry tree, and then decorated by either block print, immersion dye, panting, overlay or cord snapping. “Plants, animals, and even dirt were ground in a stone mortar to get every color imaginable.”

Kapa Cloth

In the section on personal adornment, hairstyles, tattoos and accessories were discussed. Shells, seeds, feathers and bones were all used to by native Hawaiians to adorn themselves for special occasions




Of particular interest here are the ornaments made of human bone, and the stone mirror


These are necklaces made of shells and flowers (lei)


This display showed a large selection of feathers used for adornments (feather lei's are shown strung across the green boards), the birds that provided the feathers, and images of headdresses. "Both Men and women sorted and tied feathers to foundation networks of olona fibers." Often, the feathers were worn as a sign of rank at official political occasions.

By the 1850s, Hawaiian sugar was extremely successful, but there were not enough native Hawaiians to do all the work needed, so planters began to bring in indentured immigrant labor from five main groups: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino. The second half of the cultural exhibition was devoted to the costumes of these five groups, who now make up a large part of Hawaii’s non-native population and culture.

Chinese Heritage Display:


Portuguese Heritage Display:

Japanese Heritage Display:

Korean Heritage Display:


Filipino Heritage Display:

While the overall quality of the display cases was lacking (old cases, lighting chords visible, etc); the information provided on each of these groups and their artifacts, traditions and history on the island was solid, informative and interesting. That said, information on the provenance of specific items wasn’t included and I would have been interested to know the dates of the clothing, the materials used, if they were made locally or brought over from the country of origin, etc.

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  • Worn Through » Exhibition Review(s): Hawaiian Fabric & Fashion
    July 7, 2010 - 5:01 am

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