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Mau ka Leo

A storytelling space for Bishop Museum

Cover Image: Detail of ʻahu ʻula with kōnane (checkerboard) pattern of red, yellow, and black feathers. Bishop Museum Ethnology Collection. C.00208/1927.073. Photo by Hal Lum and Masayo Suzuki, Bishop Museum Archives. Q 207494.

We must preserve the connections between materials and the people who contribute to their meaning.

Begin exploring the stories around Bishop Museum’s collections as featured on Mau ka Leo.

Please consider supporting our 2023 Annual Fund campaign that will run through January 2024. The Mau ka Leo project is one example of what your tax-deductible gift supports.

At Bishop Museum, our collections embody the living cultures of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. Our humanities collections contain 3 million cultural items, archaeological materials, historical photographs, works of art, audio recordings, books, and manuscripts — more than half of the world’s primary source material for Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. But with only 5% of our collections currently available online, they are mostly inaccessible. Through our Digital Futures Initiative, Bishop Museum will digitize more of our collections and make content publicly accessible.

Yet digitization alone does not give sufficient context to our materials. Nor does it explain how different items relate to each other in significant ways. Every item in our care is part of the interconnected histories of Pacific people, cultures, and languages. But it is the knowledge and stories behind these items that illuminate their meaning.

Stories live within our communities. They are held by Bishop Museum’s staff — our curators, collection managers, and caretakers — whose combined knowledge and experience is rooted in the collections they steward. They are held by our practitioners and our kūpuna, who perpetuate the legacies of oral tradition and cultural practice. Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian people) on staff are especially vital to preserving Museum and Hawaiian histories, as they share the stories that they alone retain. All of these voices — these storytellers — are part of a genealogy of knowledge that’s both institutional and cultural, both lived and inherited. It is their voices that must be shared. 

Through Mau ka Leo, a digital storytelling space, Bishop Museum seeks to record knowledge held by our staff and communities, so that the collective voices of the Museum can endure for future generations. In tandem with the centralization of our collections data through the Digital Futures Initiative, Mau ka Leo documents cultural and institutional knowledge as multimedia stories — gathered through conversations, writings, and research. The project offers a deeper insight into our materials that far exceeds what standard metadata can record. 

By sharing local perspectives in an online space, Mau ka Leo celebrates the knowledge of ancestral presence by Pacific people in all geographic spaces. It honors the experiences of Bishop Museum’s staff and community, and their contributions to perpetuating Hawaiʻi’s material culture. Through their voices, we will preserve the untold stories that for too long have remained inaccessible. 

Support for Mau ka Leo is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities American Rescue Plan: Humanities Organizations program (ZDH-283709) and by generous donors to Bishop Museum’s Digital Futures Initiative.

black and white photo of a sailboat in the ocean.
The double-hulled canoe Hōkūleʻa at sea; Hawaiʻi, ca. 1976. Bishop Museum Archives. SP HMC 201263.
three birds perched on a branch.
Hand-colored lithograph (1964.0280) of ʻapapane (Himatione sanguinea), 1891; published in Aves Hawaiienses: The Birds of the Sandwich Islands, by Scott B. Wilson, London, 1890–1899. Drawn and lithographed by F. W. Frohawk, Bishop Museum Archives. SP 201557.
a black and white photo of a comet and palm trees.
A commercial postcard from 1910 shows a fictitious, enhanced view of Halley’s Comet in the sky above Hawaiʻi. This image was likely created with a retouched photograph of palm trees, onto which the comet was drawn or painted. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 126622.

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.

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