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History Activities


an old photo of a man working in a rice field.
Rice Fields in Waikīkī With Diamond Head Looming in the Background.

When you think of Waikīkī in the late 19th century, and famous Lēʻahi (Diamond Head) silhouetted against the sky, what do you picture? Did you know that the name Waikīkī means “spouting waters,” referring to the rich wetlands seen there in the past? The modern Waikīkī we know today is a very different place from the Waikīkī of a century past, when wetland agriculture was practiced in the vicinity. With the arrival of different groups of immigrant workers contracted for plantation agriculture, men from Asia who were able to stay in Hawaiʻi began to secure places to live and ways to make a living outside the plantations. Wetland agriculture shifted from growing kalo (taro) to other food plants, especially rice, across the Islands. Wet areas in historic Waikīkī were used to grow rice, although even these changes would be difficult to imagine when looking at Waikīkī today. 

Explore the history of food and the work of Bishop Museum by clicking on the images below. 

Search Past Themes

Fish Of Hawai‘i Coloring Activity


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Explore history of plants of Hawai‘i and and the work of Bishop Museum’s Botany Department by clicking on the images below. 

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Rising tthe Clouds, They Greeted the First Arrivals

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This week, people around the world will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an international acknowledgment of the need to protect and preserve the planet we call home.

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Feathers in Hawaiian History

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Hōkū meaning star in Hawaiian, and leʻa meaning gladness; Hōkūleʻa is our star of joy or gladness. 

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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.

a painting of two fruit hanging from a tree.
The arrival of the first wave of Polynesian settlers brought new plants and animals to the Hawaiian Islands. Not knowing what awaited them, these settlers brought food plants and animals to ensure their survival. Plants such as ʻulu (breadfruit), niu (coconut), kalo (taro), ʻōhiʻa ʻai (mountain apple), and ʻawa (kava), along with moa (chickens) and puaʻa (pigs) were able to survive long-distance ocean journeys and be easily established in a new homeland. These “canoe plants,” so called because they were brought on canoes by Polynesians, like the ʻulu shown in this painting, helped to provide consistent sources of foods and materials for the first people of Hawaiʻi, allowing populations to grow across the island chain. Painted in the late 19th century by Margaret Girvin Gillin, the ʻulu fruit shown here are symbols of abundance and island life, and certainly attractive as subjects for artistic interpretation.   
a painting of people riding horses in a river.
Mānoa Valley from Waikīkī  
In 1864, Enoch Wood Perry Jr. arrived in the Hawaiian Islands to visit his cousin, who taught at a missionary school. While in the Kingdom, he painted several expansive landscapes, including this view of Mānoa Valley from the vantage point of Waikīkī. At the time this painting was created, Mānoa Valley was the “breadbasket” for the town of Honolulu, providing breadfruit, coconut, taro, sugar, and even coffee for the residents of Oʻahu. And yes, Waikīkī was home to both ducks and duck ponds even as recent as the early 1900s.  
a black and white photo of a farm.
Hale Surrounded by Loʻi Kalo  
Loʻi kalo (wetland taro patches) are understood to have been a part of life for Native Hawaiians from the very beginning, and thanks to the know-how of these people and the availability of fresh water in many parts of Hawaiʻi, kalo has been a food for all seasons and all tastes. While kalo can grow on dryland, wetland kalo is preferred by many, and large areas of production, like the multiple loʻi seen in this photograph, were typical in Hawaiʻi for generations and generations. Many distinct kalo varieties were cultivated across the Islands, and a number of those varieties are still grown today. This photograph, taken on Kauaʻi in 1885, shows hale pili (pili grass houses) built nearby the different loʻi. Even today, Kauaʻi is famous for the kalo grown in its nutrient-rich soils, moistened on average by more than 60 inches of rain a year.  
a group of people standing next to each other in front of a field.
Cane Field Workers  
Plantation owners in Hawaiʻi learned from experience that married male Japanese field workers proved more reliable with the additional responsibilities of home and family. Representatives from the plantations recruited Japanese women to come to the Islands, often to provide labor, but also potential partners to male Japanese workers already situated here. Japanese women were often tasked with weeding (hoe hana), watering (hanawai), and stripping dry cane leaves (holehole). Both Japanese men and women who worked the plantations created and sang informal songs that reflected the hard lives plantation workers faced, and the art of holehole bushi (field songs) was born in Hawaiʻi. These songs were glimpses into the trials and tribulations of the indomitable spirit of the Japanese workers in Hawaiʻi during the plantation period. 
an old photo of a small boat in a lake.
Rice Mill, Hanalei, Kauaʻi  
The first groups of immigrant workers brought to the Hawaiian Islands to work on the plantations came primarily from China. With the large decreases in the Native Hawaiian population, Chinese laborers who stayed in the Islands began to shift lands set aside for kalo production to the growing of rice. This was especially true on Kauaʻi and Oʻahu because of higher average rainfall. Rice quickly became a viable cash crop, second only to sugar in both revenue and acreage. The later arrival of Japanese laborers brought the demise of rice production in the Islands, due to preference for short-grain rice varieties instead of the long-grain varieties favored by the Chinese workers. Besides the historical rice mill in Hanalei Valley on Kauaʻi, there are few structures or visible evidence of the large-scale production of rice in Hawaiʻi remaining today.  
a black and white photo of people working in a field.
Waipahu Rice Paddies  
Built in 1898, the iconic Waipahu Sugar Mill smokestacks have loomed over the former plantation town for over 120 years. This image, from the beginning of the 20th century, is an example of the vast expanses of land dedicated not to the growing of sugarcane or making of sugar, but to the production of rice throughout the Islands. Many of the first Chinese laborers returned to their roots upon the completion of their contracts by taking up rice farming in their new homeland. Even now, the smokestacks remain a visible and viable testament to Waipahu’s historic past, as well as to the community’s continued use as the site of the Leeward YMCA Center. Today, the descendants of plantation workers who settled in the area continue to live on or near family lands.
a farm with a truck parked in the background.
Kalo: The Tradition Continues  
Prior to many of the changes in agricultural methods that occurred in the 1800s, Native Hawaiians supported a population that may have numbered 900,000 individuals across the Island chain with sustainable farming and fishing practices. Fertile lands, abundant freshwater, and year-round sunshine, combined with the highly-adaptable and productive food crops brought across the sea, allowed Native Hawaiians to flourish in Hawaiʻi. Now, close to 1,000 years since the first migrations are believed to have arrived, nearly 90% of food consumed in Hawaiʻi is imported from elsewhere in the world. Recently, residents of Hawaiʻi have incorporated more sustainable agricultural practices to supplement the reliance on external sources for basic needs. Local communities are again considering the value of localized food production, and many organizations are working to increase these capacities around the state. In Kāneʻohe, on the island of Oʻahu, Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi is one such organization, working not only to restore key native wetlands and upland areas, but to create accessible agricultural areas for families to start (or restart) their own loʻi kalo (wetland taro patches).  
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a sculpture of a bear in a glass case.

Contemporary Work

Today, Native Hawaiian artisans continue to create works of pōhaku (stone) for functional and ritual purposes. This kiʻi (image), created by renowned artist Rocky Kaʻiouliokahihikoloʻehu Jensen, represents Kanaloa, the Hawaiian akua (deity) who presides over the sea. This kiʻi of Kanaloa is one of three that were commissioned in connection with the making of Hawaiʻiloa, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, the sister ship to Hōkūleʻa. Besides stone, Jensen is also known for carving in wood and two-dimensional works, and like many living Native Hawaiian artists, his work reflects a connection that many feel between the past, present, and future.

a large brick building with a clock tower.

Hawaiian Hall Complex

Much like her older sibling, Bishop Hall, the Hawaiian Hall Complex is also constructed of locally-quarried basalt stone, sometimes referred to as “Kamehameha blue stone.” While the first galleries of Hawaiian Hall initially opened in 1891, within a decade Polynesian Hall and the major three-story portion of the Hawaiian Hall structure were added to complete the Museum’s main building. More than a century later, two major restorations of the complex resulted in finishing touches added to Hawaiian Hall to house nearly 3,000 artifacts from Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, and the renaming of Polynesian Hall to Pacific Hall in 2013.

a large stone building with stairs leading up to it.

Bishop Hall

The oldest structure on the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum campus also has the distinction of being the last standing building of the original Kamehameha School site. The Kamehameha School for Boys opened in October 1887 at Kaiwiʻula, the traditional name for the area where the Museum stands to this day, and the location of Bishop Hall was selected the same year. Bishop Hall was one of the first structures in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi built using native lava rock as a major architectural component and featuring one of the first electrical systems utilized in Hawaiʻi, after the reconstruction of ʻIolani Palace. The majority of this basalt was quarried locally within the neighboring area of Kapālama.

a display case with rocks and other items.


Many Pacific Island cultures rely on pōhaku (stone) to provide materials for everyday life. In Hawaiʻi, pōhaku became kiʻi (images of deities), kāheka (saltpans), mea kuʻi ʻai (food pounders), and especially koʻi (adzes). A master carver could use koʻi to fashion not only the basic items needed by the community, but treasures which would stand the passage of time and speak to the ability and skill of such experts, called kahuna in Hawaiian. Waʻa (canoes), papa kuʻi ʻai (food pounding boards), hale pili (houses thatched with pili grass), mea mahiʻai (farming implements), mea lawaiʻa (fishing implements) and mea kaua (weapons) are a few of the things that can be made by the skilled use of koʻi.

a painting of a mountain with clouds in the sky.

Rising to the clouds, they greeted the first arrivals 

Over a thousand years ago, the first wave of settlers from the Central Pacific were greeted by rising mountains and chiseled ocean cliffs made of basalt rock. In traditional stories of creation, the islands of Hawaiʻi were birthed by akua (deities) or discovered by chiefly voyagers. From a geological perspective, the islands were created by a hotspot in the Pacific Ocean which allowed molten rock to flow up from the Earth’s core, cooling to form the land we know today. In chiefly genealogies, Hawaiʻi Island is the eldest of its siblings, but Kauaʻi is geologically the oldest, roughly five million years old. The youngest in geological time is Hawaiʻi Island, just over one million years old. In addition to their cultural significance to Native Hawaiians, Hawaiʻi’s volcanoes were a favorite subject for many artists of the nineteenth century. This portrait of Mauna Loa during her 18801881 eruption period hangs in the third floor Picture Gallery of the Hawaiian Hall Complex. 

a group of people standing in a river.


Another ʻōlelo noʻeau states: he lepo ka ʻai a Oʻahu, a māʻona nō i ka lepo – the lepo (earth) is the food of those on Oʻahu, and those on Oʻahu are satisfied with the lepo. For the Bishop Museum Education team, no lepo was consumed while working at Hoi with Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, but the work was satisfying to the core. Nearby, an available streamlet gave them a moment to wash in the refreshing waters that flow through Hoi, bringing life to people and plants, and adding nutrients for Heʻeia makai (oceanward). Mahalo a nui loa to our friends at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi for hosting us and allowing us learn from you and from the ʻāina for which you care for so greatly.  If you would like to learn more about Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, please visit their website at

a group of people posing for a picture in a field.

Honest Fatigue, Honest Aches

At the end of the workday, Education team members gather to record a special moment connection to community, success in learning a few of the lessons that start in the loʻi, and renewed enthusiasm for communicating cultural knowledge and experiences to the communities they serve at Bishop Museum.  Back row, left to right: Jason F., David O., Tony S., Kelli S., Bill M., Brandon B., Aya U., and Kaʻehu A. Front row, left to right: Romee G., Donnette T., Atsumi Y., Kapalikū M., and Cheyenne V.

a group of people standing in a muddy field.

In Working, One Learns

The area stewarded by Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi contains many acres of land intended to be renewed for growing kalo, and the Bishop Museum Education team had a chance to assist staff from Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi in harvesting from one of these loʻi. Throughout the day, Education team members connected with the mission to “māhuahua ʻai o Hoi,” to regrow the fruits of Hoi, and importantly, colleagues grew closer connections to each other.  The loʻi became a metaphor for the connection Bishop Museum has with our community, our neighbors, and our mission to be a gathering place for lifelong learning, preservation of knowledge, and living culture. The loʻi served as classroom, lesson, and source of joy that day, reminding us of the simple, but impactful ʻōlelo noʻeau (proverbial saying): “Ma ka hana ka ʻike,” meaning that through doing, one learns.

a group of people standing in a field.

Mālama the ʻĀina, Mālama the Culture

Eventually, plans for urban development were announced for the area, the land having been in private hands for some years.  This was met with intense community opposition, which resulted in the scuttling of proposed housing developments and a planned golf course.   Later, the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority took ownership of the property, and in January 2010,  Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi acquired a 38-year lease with the intent of promoting educational and cultural programs, engaging in ecologically sound restoration of the wetlands and sustainable agriculture for the community.  Based upon traditional and historical land use and practices, and with the blessings of kūpuna in the community,  Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi has initiated various projects to rejuvenate Hoi as a center for natural, cultural, social and economic self-determination.

a group of people standing around a muddy field.

Hoi, or the Heʻeia Wetlands

Hoi is a marshland  created by the combined waters of Haʻikū and ʻIolekaʻa valleys. For many generations, wetland kalo was continuously grown here until the middle of the 1800s.  At that time, other crops such as sugarcane, pineapple and rice became more prominent in the area than kalo.  Eventually, the land was dedicated to cattle ranching, resulting in one of the first broadsides of the battle for water rights on the Windward side of Oʻahu.  This style of land usage greatly contributed to erosion, flooding and increased runoff during the rainy seasons, degrading the health and vitality of both Heʻeia fishpond and Kāneʻohe Bay.  In an effort to control this erosion,  mangrove plants were introduced to the area, but as mangrove becomes invasive when outside its natural range, it outcompeted native plants and impacted the overall ecological health of the area.

a group of people standing around each other.

Before …. 

On the morning of January 7, 2020, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Education team arrived  at Hoi, a marshy part of the Heʻeia wetlands, a 400-acre reclamation project in Heʻeia ahupuaʻa, Koʻolaupoko moku, Oʻahu. Hoi, once a large area for kalo cultivation in the past, is now under the care of Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, a community-based non-profit, working partnership with two other organizations based in Heʻeia ahupuaʻa: Papahana Kuaola and Paepae o Heʻeia. Led by Bishop Museum Education Director Brandon Bunag, thirteen Education team members prepare to learn about the work happening at Hoi and across Heʻeia. For some members of the team, this will be their first chance to do work in a loʻi, a wetland kalo system.

a lamp shade is on display in a glass case.

Ahuula of Chiefess
Aliʻi men and women of Hawaiʻi had the right to wear feather work to show their special nature.  This ʻahu ʻula belonged to the chiefess Kalanikauikaʻalaneo, also known as Keōpūolani, a sacred favored wife of King Kamehameha.  Her most well-known children with Kamehameha were Liholiho, Kauikeaouli, and Nāhieʻenaʻena.  Upon the passing of Kamehameha in 1819, Keōpūolani’s son Liholiho became Kamehameha II, and after his passing in 1824, his younger brother Kauikeaouli became Kamehameha III.  Keōpūolani did not take up politics as Kamehameha’s other favorite wife, Kaʻahumanu did, but both of these royal wāhine, along with a young Liholiho, provided a catalyst for change in Hawaiʻi through their actions.  This ʻahu ʻula came to Bishop Museum in 1893, one of three sacred ʻahu ʻula connected to the legacies of the royal house of Kamehameha.

a yellow dress is on display in a glass case.

Ahuula of King Kamehameha I
High-ranking Hawaiian chiefs were known to have had full-length ʻahu ʻula (cloaks and capes) made for them to signify their political and spiritual power.  While it is very likely he had more than one ʻahu ʻula created for him, it is known that King Kamehameha wore this special ʻahu ʻula during his lifetime.  This unique example of the skill of native featherworkers is made using the yellow feathers of the mamo and a smattering of red ʻiʻiwi feathers.  Small tufts of red feathers can be seen scattered among the sea of gold, but no other cloak with so many mamo feathers is known to exist.  Approximately 450,000 individual feathers, bundled in small groups, comprise the exterior of this ʻahu ʻula, which is understood to be an eternal treasure of the Hawaiian people and an exquisite example of the high level of expertise obtained by the featherworkers of a time long past.

a portrait of two men in a gold frame.

Portrait of Boki and Liliha in Royal Regalia (from the KSBE collection)
This image of high chiefs Liliha and Boki shows them posed with an English landscape of the 1820s in the background.  The original lithograph was made in 1824 by London artist, John Hayter.  Liliha and Boki were part of the royal entourage that accompanied the king, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and queen, Kamāmalu, to England in an effort to establish closer ties between the two nations.  The relationship was also greatly desired as a way to stave off other foreign powers from encroaching upon the Hawaiian Kingdom’s sovereign status.  Hayter not only painted Liliha and Boki, who chose to wear chiefly garb, but also painted King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu, who wore fine European clothing.  Instead, Liliha and Boki both wore chiefly featherwork as a sign of their rank and their connection to deity.  Liliha wears a lei poʻo (feathered head garland) and Boki wears both a feathered mahiole (helmet) and ʻahu ʻula (cloak).

a wooden box with some items inside of it.

Princess Ruth’s Lei Hulu Trunk
This wooden trunk belonged to Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Keanolani Kanāhoahoa, an aliʻi wahine (chiefess) of great knowledge, power, and aloha.  Born in 1826 to high chiefs Pauahi and Kekūanāoʻa, Princess Ruth was also therefore a great-granddaughter to King Kamehameha I.  She was a blood relative to many in the royal line, and especially to her dear cousin Bernice Pauahi Pākī, known more commonly under her married name of Bernice Pauahi Bishop.  Princess Ruth is remembered for her staunch desire to live as a Hawaiian, using ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in all her engagements, building a Western-style mansion but living in a hale pili (pili grass house) and placing great value on traditional Hawaiian practices like featherwork.  This trunk itself is a precious vessel holding feathers and thread used by the Princess to create beautiful expressions of culture and mana.

a close up of a bird's feathers on a table.

While red hulu (feathers) from ʻiʻiwi, and sometimes ʻapapane, can be seen in many examples of royal featherwork in Hawaiʻi, the yellow hulu of ʻōʻō and mamo were considered the most valuable and sacred because of their rarity.  These two honeycreeper species lived in the highest mountain forests and possessed mostly black plumage.  They were considered so precious that King Kamehameha is understood to have made laws that forbade the killing of these birds, according to the writings from David Malo, a Hawaiian historian of the 19th century.  As king, Kamehameha claimed all items of royal featherwork, but he wanted future generations to treasure the living birds as well.  Many featherwork birds were caught with a sticky mixture spread on a special pole called kia manu, atop which their feet would be stuck.  The bird catchers would release the birds’ feet using a special oil mixture, allowing the birds to fly away under their own power.

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