Thursday, April 28, 2022

Hawaii's Lyman Museum highlights wildlife, sea life, Polynesian travel, rich island history

Hawaii's fascinating history is told in striking exhibits and displays at Lyman Museum in Hilo.


Murals, paintings and expertly written commentary tell
the fascinating story of the settlement of Hawaii.


New England born Lymans brought their "Cape
Cod" style architecture to build in Hawaii.
IF YOU THINK of Hawaii  -- and only seashells, hula and palm trees come to mind -- you'll be pleasantly surprised when you visit the Lyman Museum and Mission House.
Located in Hilo, on "the Big Island" of Hawaii, this treasure is Smithsonian-affiliated and the islands' only museum of natural and cultural history.
Its large collection of intriguing artifacts is displayed throughout more than 20,000 square feet of open, airy and well designed galleries.  Expertly curated and sometimes surprising exhibits range from a beautifully illustrated history of the islands' settlement to a tour of the home next door, built by New England missionaries and teachers, David and Sarah Lyman in 1839.
The much visited museum began with the home,  the Lyman Mission House, built near its present location and moved in 1931, nearly 100 years later. The museum was established by Lyman descendants and both buildings are carefully tended by docents who also give lively tours.
THE NICELY restored Mission House is home to both furniture owned and built by the Lymans and other period pieces acquired by the museum which achieved status with both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. We admired lovely hand-crafted furniture, tools, household items, and artifacts used by the Lymans and other early missionary families.
The Lyman house is on the State and National Registers of
Historic Places and an important artifact of the Museum.
The much larger Lyman Museum building, next door to the Mission House, was constructed in 1971.  We admired its superb collection of artifacts and natural history exhibits -- displayed in an impressively large and open space. A handsome gift shop offers handmade Hawaiian souvenirs -- classy, not airport kitsch.

VISITORS TOURING the two facilities can see the old Mission House and life as it was 150 years ago, then go next door to inspect immersive exhibits on a range of Hawaiian natural history and culture. Through our Lyman Mission House guide, Jan, we enjoyed a glimpse into the life of the Lymans Lyman, who sailed 5,000 miles from New England in 1832 to build the island's oldest standing wood structure.
Exquisite feather work is on show.
Jan conveyed the courage of the couple -- rounding "The Horn" in a six-month voyage, before the Panama Canal, to craft a house without electricity or running water.
WE SPENT a good share of our afternoon visit in the museum's newly renovated Heritage Gallery which studies  Polynesian settlement and the life of these early Hawaiian people. We studied nicely displayed tools and implements crafted from native materials so these inventive people could farm, fish, build canoes and structures, grow crops, prepare and serve food, fashion weapons and adornments, and create clothing, coverings, and containers.
This pair of Muscovy ducks
kept watch outside the museum.

THE SHELLS, rocks and feather work are stunning. So is an artistic exhibit on Hawaii's famous waterfowl. 
The museum involves the community in learning, enrichment projects and guest artists, offering a range of educational programs from special lectures and talks to hands-on workshops on Hawaiian skills and crafts.  A favorite exhibit of locals is "Lei Hulu" featuring traditional Hawaiian feather work, exquisitely done.  Regional exhibits also draw attention. “Sasana: The Burma Portfolio,” features images of the Burmese people and their land, showcased the work of a noted Hawaii-based photographer.
Bruce Keller looks to the horizon in front of a colorful
mural at Lyman Museum, which offers a fascinating
immersion in the complex culture of Hawaii
THE GALLERY spends time on their spiritual beliefs and social relationships and diplomatically studies the influences of "Agents of Change," a variety of early European explorers, whalers, traders, missionaries and people from the mainland.  All helped shape the  islands' government, land use, economy and education.

Tools are nicely displayed with commentary
on their use and how they were made.
WE ENJOY this aspect of our frequent Hawaii visits. It's an appealing "melting pot," a multi-cultural mecca.  The museum notes these important contributors: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Korean immigrants who worked the sugar plantations, contributed to an evolving language and brought new foods and music. That exotic blend shaped what Hawaiian people consider “local."
 HAWAII'S POLITICAL development is also carefully analyzed. The Monarchy's early 
The museum's many and varied exhibits include this lovely
three-dimensional display on Hawaii's waterbirds.
class-based society is explained, leading up to Hawaii's statehood in 1959.  We learned how David Kalākaua, Hawaii's last and "Merrie Monarch” -- revived hula. He loved this graceful traditional Hawaiian dance, and helped revitalize it and other waning art traditions, ushering in a "cultural renaissance" in Hawaii.
THE MUSEUM and next-door home are popular with schools and students are welcome. Our guide, Jan, noted that this is appropriate since high school boys crafted some of the furniture in the home. A highlight of the gallery is the "Kīpuka," an interactive learning space where students enjoy hands-on activities: Hawaiian kapa and tattoo design, mat plaiting, storytelling through hula, chant, petroglyphs, and oral legends. They take home their artwork -- learning  traditional techniques and an appreciation for the rich culture inspiring the artforms.
Admissions are surprisingly low -- only a few dollars, with locals getting a price break.

The seductive charms of La Casa del Zorro await you,
a desert hotel offering a peaceful get-away with all
the amenities of a resort or big-city property. 
A retreat in the desert -- both elegant and relaxed -- awaits at La Casa del Zorro in Borrego, Springs, a beautiful hotel with all the amenities of a big city resort yet the quiet and calming surroundings of one of the world's most picturesque deserts. "La Casa" offers private casitas and a handsomely decorated hotel, bird life, walking trails, a spa, yoga classes, tennis and a fine restaurant and bar with specialties of the house and something for every taste. Then as we approach hurricane season in Hawaii, we visit a fascinating Tsunami Museum. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family and the arts:

UP NEXT: La Casa del Zorro is a stately yet relaxed hotel in the desert near Borrego Springs, Calif.  

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