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Pacific Heights: A visit to Bishop Museum's new Pacific Hall

On one end of Pacific Hall, 8-year-old Destiny Sinapati is trying on traditional Pacific garb at a hands-on kiosk. She laughs infectiously as she shows off a grass skirt. Destiny’s mom, Chantal Noa, reveals that she was herself a child the last time she visited the hall.

“I’m just trying to soak it all in,” says Noa.

The renovation of Pacific Hall combines design ideas collected from Bishop Museum archaeologists, anthropologists, cultural historians and staff members in conjunction with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, one of the world’s leading museum design firms. The exhibits are reflective of the most up-to-date research about the migration of Pacific peoples across multiple millennia, and highlight new initiatives being undertaken to preserve the voyaging traditions of the world’s largest ocean. The most important end result of the renovations for many Bishop Museum staff members, however? The historical and thematic transition for visitors moving from Hawaiian Islands-focused Hawaiian Hall to Pacific Hall is now seamless, reinforcing the message that the histories of all the people of the Pacific are intertwined.

Tall, hand-carved wood slit drums from the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, at the hall's entrance. Photo: Bishop Museum.

“It’s actually connecting Hawai‘i to the Pacific and to the past,” says Bishop Museum assistant anthropologist Mara Mulrooney of the new Pacific Hall. A member of the museum’s redesign team, Mulrooney talks about the space excitedly. “The emphasis is on the sea that connects us, rather than the sea that divides us.”

Our docent, Wong, wraps up our 25-minute guided tour of Pacific Hall urging visitors to also explore the easily navigable space on their own.

“There’s just so much to see,” says Wong. “We have the Pacific Ocean here at the museum.”

Pacific Hall at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu • (808) 847-3511 • www.bishopmuseum.org

(This feature was originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

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