Ethnology

Ethnology

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

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.

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

This dohr (belt) is made of banana fiber woven on a backstrap loom, a technique used by women weavers of Pohnpei (Federated States of Micronesia). Fine woven belts such as this were worn by high-ranking chiefs atop their skirts. This dohr was donated to the Museum by Mrs. Henry Waterhouse in 1904.
Photo by Jesse Stephen, © Bishop Museum; Bishop Museum Archives
Established in 1889 as the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History, the Museum actively engaged in the preservation and stewardship of significant cultural treasures from its inception. Today, the Museum’s collection of cultural treasures serves as a unique resource to better understand the history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, to address the opportunities and the challenges that arise for the communities we serve, and to continue to inspire practitioners, artists, scholars, and the many guests that come through our doors every day.
At the core of the collections under the care of the Ethnology Department, the founding collection consists of personal possessions belonging to Ke Ali‘i Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, and Queen Emma, which bear witness to the important lives of these three chiefly women, to the changes happening during their lifetimes, and to their commitment to support and nurture their lāhui.
 
Expanding from this foundation, the Ethnology Department currently cares for more than 77,500 cultural objects from Hawai‘i and the greater Pacific, or brought to Oceania[s3] [AC4]  through trade, migrations, and diplomatic relationships. This vast collection includes significant heirlooms from local and chiefly families, objects acquired through Museum expeditions in the Pacific, and items purchased from or exchanged with collectors and curators from across the world. Notable collections include those of Queen Liliʻuokalani, Princess Kaʻiulani, Joseph S. Emerson, Te Rangihiroa (Sir Peter Buck), Lucy Peabody, Edgar Henriques, Eric Craig, and the Kapiʻolani-Kalanianaʻole chiefly line.
 
Caring for one of the most significant collections of its kind, the Ethnology staff is actively engaged in the preservation of these cultural treasures, and works closely with community representatives and partners to continue to improve collection care. Through the development of exhibitions, cross-departmental research, collections-driven public programs, publications, and unprecedented documentation and digitization efforts, the Ethnology department also seeks to increase physical and digital access to the collections and explore multiple ways of knowing and seeing. Through these processes, we honor the multitude of relationships and stories embodied by these cultural treasures, and celebrate the many pathways ahead as we continue to engage with and inspire and be inspired by our community and our guests.

Be a Part of Our Story

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.