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Culture Activities

Food & Hawaiian Culture

Food provides nourishment for our bodies, but it can also be used as a way to inspire creativity! This activity includes a selection of traditional Hawaiian foods and a separate sheet to make a personalized menu and sketch your own meal!

Hawaiian Food Menu

Take a look at our menu to view a handful of traditional Hawaiian dishes!

Hawaiian Food Menu

Create your own Hawaiian dish!

Search Past Themes

Fish Of Hawaii Podcast

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Plants in Hawai‘i can be separated into two main types: native and non-native.

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Across the Pacific Ocean, islands are often composed of volcanic rock, providing the very foundation to support life on land in the midst of the largest ocean on the planet. 

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Earth Day is a day set aside to recognize the importance of taking care of our planet, or as we call it in Hawaiʻi, mālama hōnua (taking care of the earth).

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“Kōlea and the Chief’s Cloak” by Alice Guild Narrated by Bishop Museum Education Staff Member, Kaʻehu.

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Voyaging In The Pacific Podcast

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Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.

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a number of different type of hooks on a wall.

The main hole, rounded edges and point are further refined with coral and sea urchin spine tools. A small nub is left at the top of the shank for a line to be lashed onto the hook. While size and shape varied according to what kind of fish was desired, fishhooks are usually well-shaped and finely polished before going into the water.

a group of four pieces of metal with numbers on them.

A fishhook blank can be made from a small piece of animal bone, chosen for appropriate thickness and strength. The upper shank is created by grinding material away from the top of the curving point, then as the outside shape is refined, a hole is made using a shell-tipped pump drill, called a naowili.

a group of three pieces of stone sitting on top of a table.

The making of fishhooks requires a variety of skills, and in Hawaiʻi, like other parts of Oceania, the making of a hook starts with choosing the base material and grinding or cutting the hook’s shape until the finished product is achieved.

a display of sea life in a museum.

Hawaiian fishing gear

Besides large hooks used to catch big fish, other types of gear may be needed to ensure success on a fishing expedition. In Hawaiʻi, like other parts of Oceania, different styles of fishhooks attract and catch different kinds of fish. The lures shown here are used to catch aku (tuna) and heʻe (octopus). The pā hī aku (tuna lures) are made with a shank of (pā) pearl shell, onto which is lashed a bone or shell point. All of these parts are strengthened by the central line that runs up and down the length of the lure.

Lūheʻe (octopus lures) are also made with a hook, but instead of using pearl shell, the shell of a leho (cowrie) is paired with a stone sinker, and both are lashed to a wooden shank. The lūheʻe is dipped up and down in the water to attract the heʻe, which grabs onto the shell, but is pulled up by the waiting lawaiʻa (fisher).

One uniquely Hawaiian fishing tool is the lāʻau melomelo, sometimes called bait sticks in English. Lāʻau melomelo are made from dense native woods, carved with a small knob used to attach a long rope and hung from the side of a canoe. Lāʻau melomelo, smeared with bait and oiled before being let down into the ocean, are said to attract different kinds of fish with little more than the essence of the bait.

a painting of a man holding an umbrella.


Across Oceania, many heroes’ stories are told, and in Polynesia, one of the most famous heroes is Māui. Known for many deeds of strength, intellect, and cunning, Māui is also known for taking care of his family. In shared stories from different parts of Polynesia, Māui is often credited with pulling up land from beneath the sea. In Hawaiʻi, one version of this story tells us that Māui hooked the kupua (supernatural) fish called Pīmoe. Pīmoe was so large that parts of its body became new land.
This hook shown here shares its name with the fishhook Māui borrowed from his father to catch Pīmoe. That name is Mānaiakalani, and while this hook may not be the fishhook Māui himself used, it is still a treasure. Made from the root of an ʻaʻaliʻi tree, its natural curvature was chosen for catching manō (sharks) and ulua (giant trevally). This fishhook has a whale bone point and retains some of its original olonā fiber lashing.

a bird is standing on the grass in front of a building.

Our Campus of Kaiwiʻula is home to a few of these wonderful Shore birds. They are indigenous to Hawai’i and primarily feed on insects such as cockroaches, moths ,and caterpillars while in Hawai’i. During breeding season (in Alaska) they are known to eat berries, leaves and seeds. Upon their arrival to Hawaii their feathers are dull and lacking in color from their journey. 

They fly over 3,000 miles at an elevation of 20,000 feet every August to Hawaiʻi and depart in late April. Most of their time spent in Hawaiʻi is in large grassy areas as kōlea are territorial and they return to the same place each year. By the time they depart, their plumage has changed and become vibrant once again. 
Our kōlea of Kaiwiʻula will be leaving us soon but we’ll see them again when they return! 

a display case with a variety of items on it.

Besides being used for catching food, shells from marine invertebrates are also used to prepare some of our favorite island food staples. In warm parts of the Pacific, bivalves are commonly eaten. Species like oysters, which grow large shells, can also be made into implements and adornments. Fishhooks in places like Tahiti and the Marquesas are often made from pieces of large black-lip pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), attractive to fish because they shine underwater. These same shells can also be used to make scraping tools for barkcloth making and food preparation. The two long, curved pieces of pearl shell shown here are used for scraping the white meat of the niu, or coconut, out of its rounded shell. Sections of the shell are notched to create grating teeth, upon which is pressed the interior of the open coconut shell, full of white meat. Coconut grating tools are common in most of the island Pacific, and in some island groups, the notched shell grater is mounted onto a seat, so the person grating the coconut meat can simply sit down and grate whenever necessary. The shell is held in two hands and moved quickly and carefully, producing fine shaved bits of coconut meat. 

a display of boats and other items in a museum.

Fishhook technology in the Pacific has always been adapted to work in many contexts. These are fishing lures used predominantly for catching Pacific tuna species, like aku (skipjack tuna). In places where tuna are not readily found, the same idea of fishing lures was adapted to catch other varieties of fish, like kahawai (Arripis trutta) in Aotearoa New Zealand.  The hooks rely on a fish-like shape, made of pearl shell, to attract the target fish, and a curved, tapering point that hooks into the corner of the fish’s mouth. These lures are intended to work without needing bait, since they take the overall form of the baitfish the tuna want to eat. This display shows the similarities in design and reminds us of commonality across the Pacific Ocean. 

a display case with a wooden bowl and some earrings.

Across the Pacific, specialized tools are used for gathering or hunting food in the environment. In Aotearoa New Zealand, hunting on land was tasked with experts who might use spears with bone points to bring down birds for food and feathers. On the water, tools like fishhooks were among the most common tools needed to bring home reliable sources of protein. This image shows two different fishhooks, both made from animal bone. The larger of the two shows an important aspect of using hooks to catch fish: the short distance between the shank (the back of the hook) and the point means that once the hook is caught in the corner of the fish’s mouth, it is extremely difficult for the fish to maneuver itself free! 

a close up of a piece of wood on display.

These shells come from sea snails in the Turbinidae family, sometimes referred to as turbo shells. There are many pan-Pacific species in Turbinidae, including an endemic species found only in Hawaiʻi! The shells shown here represent shell midden found during archaeological digs, which help archaeologists understand what kinds of foods people ate in the past and how much of it was available. 

a display of toothbrushes and toothpaste in a glass case.

Adzes made from shell are found in some parts of the Western Pacific and are common across coral atolls where volcanic stone is not readily available. Called koʻi, toʻi, or toki, adzes are tools that cut and carve materials like wood. Adzes are some of the most important tools needed to carve voyaging canoes, food-pounding boards, and house parts. The short, whitish adzes shown in this image are made from the thick shell of the giant clam (Tridacna gigas) that is found in warmer waters around the Pacific, but not in places like Hawaiʻi, Aotearoa New Zealand, or Rapa Nui. 

a wooden wall with a map of australia on it.
Our Pacific Ocean is home to more than 20,000 inhabited islands and holds one-quarter of the world’s languages. Although our islands are spread apart geographically, we are a close-knit society of cultures that share many similarities. For example, Pacific Island languages share many  of the same root words and meanings.  
ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian):   Honua — Moana — Ahi — Mea ʻai 
Gagana Sāmoa (Sāmoan): Fanua — Moana — Afi — Meaʻai 
Te Reo Māori (Māori):                Whenua — Moana — Ahi — Kai 
English:                                                  Land — Ocean — Fire — Food 
The term Oceania is also used commonly to refer to the “blue continent” of the Pacific Ocean, which includes the cultural areas sometimes called Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. These terms were created by people outside the Pacific to understand Oceania on their own terms, but as we are reminded by Pacific author Epeli Hauʻofa, “Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean.” 
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