ʻAhu ʻula of Princess Pauahi, 00955, BM Ethnology Collection
Ritual implement of the Hale Nauā Society, 1921.014.106, BM Ethnology CollectionBishop Museum

Ethnology Overview

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Ethnology Collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world, consisting of more than 77,000 cultural objects. The Collection serves as a highly valued resource to parties in both the public and private sectors. It is utilized by scholars, researchers, and practitioners for various purposes, all of which have the potential to advance contemporary understandings of the past and present cultures of Hawaiʻi, Oceania, and the greater Pacific.

Hawaiian kapa (barkcloth) from Princess Pauahi's collection, 02476, BM Ethnology CollectionBishop Museum

Ethnology History

The Museum’s Ethnology Collection was established in 1889, at the founding of the Museum. The initial collection items consisted of personal possessions belonging to Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Ruth Keʻelikōlani, and Queen Emma, also known as the “Founding Collection.” The importance of preserving Hawaiʻi’s unique cultural history was well known to each of these chiefly women, who witnessed many changes within their own lifetimes. Charles Reed Bishop, husband to Pauahi, was entrusted with these objects after her passing and vowed to create a Museum to house and care for these treasures.

Detail of a hat made with loulu palm leaves, 05046, BM Ethnology CollectionBishop Museum

Expanding from that time, the Museum’s ethnological collections now comprises of materials from chiefly Hawaiian families, objects acquired by staff conducting research in the Pacific, heirlooms from local families, and materials deemed appropriate for monetary acquisition. Notable materials include collections from Queen Liliʻuokalani, Princess Kaʻiulani, the Kapiʻolani-Kalanianaʻole Collection, Joseph S. Emerson, Lucy Peabody, Edgar Henriques, and Sir Peter Buck.

Hawaiian bird cage made of ʻieʻie, D.00017, BM Ethnology CollectionBishop Museum

Ethnology Holdings

The Ethnology Collection focuses its priorities onto the physical care and documentation of cultural objects with historical and/or cultural ties to the Pacific region, used in all levels of daily life, from the ceremonial to the day-to-day. The ongoing documentation process of compiling recorded histories, cultural stories associated with objects, and the identification of materials and techniques used in their manufacture, all assist in better contextualizing each object. These cultural materials can be categorized into three major groupings from:
• Hawaiʻi
• Oceania
• Hawaiʻi’s immigrant communities

Each grouping comprises roughly one-third of the total holdings of the Collection.

Ethnology Collection Online Database

Ethnology Database

Explore Bishop Museum’s Ethnology Collection through our online database. You will have access to information and images to over 77,000 cultural objects in the Collection from Hawaiʻi, Oceania, and the greater Pacific region. Records and information are routinely updated, but if you require information currently not available online, feel free to contact us at ethnology@bishopmuseum.org with your inquiry.

Bishop Museum LogoEthnology Access Guidelines

Please read and acknowledge your acceptance of this policy before proceeding to the Ethnology Access Request Form, below.

The Ethnology Department welcomes all researchers, practitioners, and interested parties to access our Collection. Due to limited staff availability, we can only accommodate a limited number of visitors each month. To avoid disappointment, visitors are encouraged to request an appointment at least one (1) month in advance. You will be notified within ten (10) business days, after your request is reviewed.

  • Appointments will not exceed one (1) hour. If the group is larger than ten (10) individuals, the group and the time will be divided accordingly. If approved, visitors may also access photographs and other records in the Ethnology Photo Reference Files.
  • Groups must indicate the number of people. We will determine whether we can provide access based on the nature and location of the collection. Capacity is limited to ten (10) individuals per storage area at any one time. If groups are larger than ten (10) individuals, the group will be divided accordingly to maintain the ten (10) visitor limit.
  • Photographs of artifacts in the collections may be taken only with staff permission, given time and space limitations. The Department reserves the right to limit views taken if the objects are judged to be fragile, and photography and handling would cause damage. Only electronic flash or the use of ambient light is permitted. Visitors must provide all their own photographic equipment. The Department cannot supply lights, other equipment, or specialized work space.
  • Such photographs are for personal and research use only. Clearance for any other use, including scholarly publication, exhibition, electronic transmission, or general distribution in any medium, must be secured by submitting a written request to ethnology@bishopmuseum.org, and will be evaluated by staff on a case-by-case basis.
  • Orders for professional publication-quality images may be requested from the Bishop Museum Archives here.
  • Visitors to collection areas must be accompanied by an Ethnology staff member. Access is provided only during regular staff working hours: Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm, excluding all Bishop Museum observed holidays. Special arrangements can be made if appointments can not be accommodated during our regular staff working hours. Backpacks and most personal items are not permitted in collection storage areas. All personal items will be stored in secure spaces in the Department.
  • Established collection handling procedures must be followed by visitors. Staff will advise visitors on proper handling procedures, if deemed safe by Ethnology staff.
  • Requests must be specific and visitors will have to limit themselves to the material initially requested. Casual browsing and additional impromptu requests will not be accommodated.
  • Researchers must be at least 18 years old. Visits or tours for children ages 12-17 are only permitted by special advance appointment and adult chaperones must be present. Children under the age of 12 are not usually permitted.
  • A copy is requested of any publication or thesis, if material from the collections is used as an integral or major part of the research. Please credit material used in publications to the Department of Ethnology, Bishop Museum.

I have read these guidelines and agree to abide by the conditions governing access to the Bishop Museum Department of Ethnology Collection.

Yes, I agree
   > Ethnology Access Request Form

No, I do not agree

Ethnology Department
(808) 848-4176 | ethnology@bishopmuseum.org