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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, in Honolulu, Hawaii, is a memorial to the Princess Pauahi (1831-1884), last of the Kamehameha family of the chiefs of Hawaii. It was founded by her husband, Charles Reed Bishop (1822-1915), who for nearly fifty years took a prominent part in the business and public affairs of Hawaii. The Museum is devoted to the subjects of "Polynesian and kindred antiquities, ethnology, and natural history." The collections of the Museum include material chiefly from Polynesia (including New Zealand) and from Melanesia, Micronesia, New Guinea, and Australia. The Museum staff is engaged in caring for the collections, and in investigating scientific problems which come within the scope of its activities.

The enthnological collection is rich in Hawaiian material, rich in both quality and quantity. Heirlooms from Queen Emma, Mrs. Bishop, and from page 42other chiefly families are deposited in the Museum. The collection acquired by the Territory and old specimens from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions have also come to the Museum. Particular mention may be made of featherwork, tapa, Niihau mats, ornaments, gourds, twined basketry, wooden bowls, fishing material, stone artifacts, and wooden images. The feather garments, 10 cloaks and 17 capes, form the largest single collection, but the British Museum collection contains a greater variety. The Kamehameha cloak, composed entirely of rare mamo feathers of a deeper golden color than the commoner 'o'o feathers, is unique and so also is the long yellow feather skirt (pa'u) made for the Princess Nahienaena after the abolition of the tabu against women wearing feather garments. The feather baldric ornamented with human teeth and two helmets covered with tufts of human hair instead of feathers have not been reported elsewhere.

The ethnological material from other parts of Polynesia is fair. The expeditions which commenced in 1920 were too late to acquire old material, for the various islands had been cleaned out by previous collectors. However, the Museum acquired the leavings in the form of pestles and adzes and its collection of stone artifacts is extensive enough to form a basis for comparative study. In modern plaited material in pandanus and coconut leaf, the collection is probably more extensive and varied than that of any other museum. The collections from other Pacific areas, though limited in quantity, are rich in quality for much of the material was obtained through early missionaries.

Apart from ethnological specimens, the Museum expeditions have collected quantities of plants, landshells, and insects, many from islands hitherto unvisited by scientists. The Museum's collections in natural history have been identified and described by specialists in various parts of the world, and the Museum's publications on natural history have added materially to scientific knowledge of the Pacific area.

Expeditions are sent out to various parts of the Pacific, when funds are available. It is necessary to stress the matter of funds, because an erroneous impression prevails, not only in foreign parts but among old residents of the Territory, that the Bishop Museum is rich. Science would benefit even more greatly, if this were only true. The error among local residents is due to their linking the name Bishop with the Bishop Estate and thinking that the great revenue derived from the Bishop Estate is used to support the Museum. Nothing can be wider of the mark. The Bishop Estate is the inherited land of Mrs. Bishop, and according to the provision in her will, the income derived from it is entirely for the establishment and maintenance of a school for boys and a school for girls, preferably of Hawaiian blood. Hence the origin of the Kamehameha School for Boys and the Kamehameha School for Girls. The Bishop Museum, as already stated, was founded by Charles Reed Bishop as a memorial to Mrs. Bishop, and its income is derived entirely from a page 43foundation created by him out of money he made himself. Not one cent of the Museum income is derived from the Bishop Estate, the Territory of Hawaii, or any native Hawaiian grant.