The Bishop Collection of Curios.
One of the Most Interesting Sights In Honolulu Pleasantly Described.
Death seems to have played an important part in the ancient regime, as the kings and chiefs had the power of life and death over their subjects. Then too, the priesthood, or kahunas, exercised what is termed the “tabu,” which prescribed certain rules and regulations for the natives, any violation of which was punishable by death; for instance a chief placed “tabu” sticks at the entrance to his hut; that meant to one and all, “Do not enter or pass within the shadow of the tabu sticks under pain of death;” if a Hawaiian subject, and even a petty chief, violated this tabu, he was instantly put to death; supplication was of no avail. The power of the kahunas in their exercise of the tabu, was so great and the superstitious awe of the common native so intense, that its effects have not died out even in this day and age. The common natives are yet prone to believe in their kahunas, and believe that they have the power to pray them to death; in olden days, if an enemy obtained any part of the body of another, a hair, a part of the finger nail, spittle, or anything of the body itself, he would give it to a kahuna and ask him to pray the other one to death; with great ceremony the kahuna would perform certain mysterious functions over the hair, say strange words, offer it before the poison god, and then announce that he was praying the native to death; this being told to the native so great his superstitious fear, he would go to his hut and in reality become sick over the thought of the dread summons made by the kahuna, and in many cases they actually died of the fright thus given them; and to this day many of the natives place more faith in their kahunas than in the “haole” or foreign physicians. If the praying did not perform the evil work, then a piece of the poison god was steeped and the fluid given the sufferer, it is said, which, acting upon his heart, killed him. On every hand in the museum are the evidences of kahunaism and death. There are stones, peculiarly shaped, (like a gourd,) with a small neck; these stones were suspended from the low door of a grass house in such a way that the person entering after the trap was set, would probably be crushed by the fall of the stone. They are made from lava rock.
Stone pestles for grinding roots and cereals; stone lamps in which grease was burned, and later on whale-oil, abound. The great calabashes, or “poi containers, form a most interesting exhibit; they are made from a single piece of wood, sometimes two and three feet in diameter, take a highly polished surface, and are now of extraordinary value, some of them being sold as high as three and four hundred dollars; the larges one in the museum, more than two hundred years old, is valued at $500; some of them were used by Kamehameha. “Poi” calabashes or bowls are used yet by the natives, and no “luau” or native feast to which foreigners are invited, is complete without a costly array of poi containers, as well as the smaller gourds for the individual use of each guest; the poi is eaten by the Hawaiians with the fingers entirely, foreigners being expected to partake of it in the same manner; neither are knives and forks used at a feast; the meats are usually cooked to such an extent that the fingers of the right hand are sufficient to shred it, and pass it to the mouth; of course, the Hawaiians use finger bowls, and wooden calabashes are specially prepared for this purpose; ferns are placed in the water which act as cleansers as well. Refuse bowls of wood are placed at the elbow of each guest, the bowls in the ancient days being decorated with an inlaid work of the teeth of their enemies.
In a large and beautiful cabinet of fine Hawaiian workmanship is a valuable collection of Kamehameha and Kalakaua dynasty decorations, those of the former being red, and the latter blue. The massive solid silver service presented to King Kalakaua by Queen Victoria is enclosed in the same cabinet.
A peculiar feature of this race was their evident desire in ancient days as well as in modern times, to make “an appearance;” they fashioned mirrors from stone, making discs of the size of a dollar, and others, two or three inches across the face; the high polish of the stones enabled the belles of the period to “make-up” as well as if they had a modern mirror of glass.
Personal relics of the different kings of the Kamehameha line and of the Kalakaua line fill many large cases; cocked military hats, swords, gold-bedecked uniforms, and royal insignia, give one an impression that this little monarchical court was about as showy and as well conducted as any court of Europe; at all events, the gold and tinsel and sheen of brass buttons was ever present, if that goes to make up a royal court.
In another wing of the museum are the exhibits from the Polynesian islands. The Gilbert Islands show a very savage and barbaric taste in dress, houses, household implements, etc. Everything in nature supplies them with the materials of life, dress and recreation. Ornaments of human and dog teeth for anklets and necklaces are numerous. They make their kapa, or clothing, from the tree fibres, little clothing, however, being used, as only the loins are covered. Their war-clubs and spears are made of fire-hardened wood, edged with the teeth of sharks, making them weapons of great destruction when wielded by the mighty warriors of these islands. Their war-drums and dancing-drums are made by hollowing out a log of wood, with a drumhead of lizard skin tightly stretched over the opening; small gourds are also used in making tomtoms. Hideous idols, grotesque and squat, show the ancient characteristic of all the ancient peoples of Polynesia. Their houses are made by thatching palm leaves over a structure of saplings, and raised several feet from the ground, the opening being reached by means of ladders. Their mats are woven in a skillful manner from the strips of the palm tree, and are soft and pliable. One of the principal exhibits from the Gilbert Islands is the warrior’s armor made of cocoanut fibre; it is as complete as that of the knightly cavalier of old who went forth clad in armor of steel or chainlinks; here it is reproduced in the fibre of cocoanut, the skull cap, fitting over the ears like the steel fighting-cap of the Puritans; cuirass, jacket, belt and trousers covering the legs to the ankles; the fibre is tough and will resist the sharp thrust of a spear.
The exhibit from the Micronesian group shows a more artistic turn of mind in their different manufactures; most of their household implements, which they have fashioned from different woods, have been carved with regular designs, some of them closely following the plan of the Grecian border; their tapestry work and weaving show the same degree of skill; they possess the art of coloring their mats and fibres, so that they appeal to the eye very strongly. Their idols have no semblance to human shape, as in the case of the Hawaiians and New Hebrideans; the idols are merely large stones of any shape, just as they are picked up, and placed one on top of another; this is the only group which I observed which did not attempt to give a shape fashioned somewhat after the human form, in making their idols. Pretty woven baskets of different colored fibres, fish mats and nets of strong fibres, form an interesting study. A crown made in the conventional style of old King Cole’s headpiece, composed of strips of palm leaf, dyed alternately red and black, the band border being made of woven kapa, studded with shells and shark’s teeth, occupies a prominent position.
The Fiji Islands are probably better known to people under the cognomen of the Cannibal Islands; the exhibits from there show that a most savage life must have been theirs in days long gone by. Most everything in the exhibit signifies some warlike implement. Considerable skill, however, is manifested by them in the manufacture of kapa, their dress being composed of one small piece of cloth about the loins only; their designs and coloring show some artistic ability. The war-clubs are richly carved and polished. A battle-axe is made of a hardened wood handle, bound with fibre; the axe itself is a stone, highly polished and fashioned into the conventional form of an axe, and is as murderous-looking an implement of war as one cares to see. Other clubs are long-handled with heavy spherical knobs at the end.
The Australian exhibit consists of the reproduction, in life-sized figures of a bushman’s family, consisting of the male, female and child; the exhibit shows even the degradation of barbarism; their skins are as black and dull as night; coarse, unkempt shocks of straight, black hair cover their heads and overhang the foreheads; no clothing is worn, except the skin of an animal draped over the loins; slabs of tree-bark are placed in a slanting position against a ridgepole elevated on sticks, forming their only habitation; grass and ferns compose a bed; the flesh of animals, after being crudely roasted over a fire, is torn by the fingers and teeth; no implements are used except the boomerang.
In the New Hebrides exhibit much attention is given to the construction of their idols, the principal feature being the head of the idol, which is made of a human skull which has been highly colored in red and yellow ochres, and to which a long De Bergerac nose has been attached, giving it the most grotesque look that can be imagined; the body part has been made up of grass and fibres, small tree branches forming the arms and hands. Here, as in the other groups, the same careful attention has been given to the manufacture of kapa and matting; the woven material is made on a rude loom, such as one sees in Turkey or Persia. In the making of rugs, the loom being held upon the knees; the material is very fine and soft; their war-clubs are like a modern hatchet, the wooden handles being polished to a high degree.
One of the principal exhibits from the Solomon Islands is the tribal food-bowl, inlaid with the conus shell, and used for human or other chowder, by boiling the flesh with heated stones. The wood used in the making of these bowls is very light and durable; the bowl on exhibition is about two feet in depth and three in length, giving it an appearance of an ancient Viking galley, on account of the carved wood projections at both ends. Their canoe paddles are also inlaid with pearl shell. Their water bottles consist of cocoanut shells, prettily inlaid with shells. In fact, shell work seems to be the predominant feature in their ornamental work. War-shields from the Solomon Islands are decorated with shell money and feathers, and are very highly prized. A peculiarity of the arrangement of the feather-knobs is that they have unconsciously formed them into the shape of the Christian cross.
Samoa and Marquesas.
From the Samoan Islands, so prominently brought to the world’s attention but a few months ago, have been sent war-clubs and shields, kapa, matting and fans; the shields are covered with regular design work in colored plaits. Kava bowls, similar to the Hawaiian “poi” bowls, but broader at the top, are made of an entirely different wood to the Hawaiian bowls, and do not take such a high polish. The fans which come from Samoa are highly prized as souvenirs by tourists, and many are found in the Eastern cities. The war-clubs are mostly round, like a baseball bat, richly carved and beaded. Sleeping-pillows, unlike the Anglo-Saxon idea of softness, are made of a piece of ofe wood, about three inches in diameter, mounted on legs and about four inches from the floor, merely a rest for the neck.
A splendid exhibit of canoes of the catamaran and outrigger style are seen in the Marquesas Islands’ display; sails for the larger canoes are made by plaiting palm strips together and the canoes themselves are constructed of a single log of wood, hollowed out; the outrigger is a small curved piece of wood; this balances the canoe in the roughest weather. A Marquesas Island canoe of the double-deck galley style, reminds one very strongly of the ancient Phoenician galley. War drums are made of cocoanut wood, with shark’s skin or oxhide head, and cocoanut braid cords wound about the body.
The museum building itself is constructed entirely of lava stone blocks and although it is quite roomy, yet a wing is being added which is almost as large as the main building. The Bishop Museum is to Polynesia what the British Museum is to Europe.
(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 2/22/1900, p. 5)