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Tales of Two Islands: Exploring Kauai and Niihau history at Kauai Museum



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Kauai Museum's eye-catching Greco-Roman facade in the heart of Lihue. Photo by David Croxford for HAWAII Magazine.

Kauaii Museum is just a few miles from Lihue Airport.

I know this because, on past Garden Island visits, I’d zipped by it while heading from the airport straight to a beach or hiking-trail assignment, each time taking note of the museum’s striking lava-rock exterior and stately Greco-Roman fa├žade. Today is different, however, as I’ve instead dashed directly to Kauai Museum for a few hours’ exploration of its interiors—all dedicated to preserving the life and times past of Kaua‘i and its island neighbor to the southwest, privately owned Niihau.

As I enter, I get the happy feeling that this museum, situated in the center of Lihue’s historic downtown area and once home to the town’s library, holds answers to a wide range of questions gathered on my previous sojourns to lush, laid-back Kauai. Questions such as: How did the island’s geology take shape? Which plants and animals thrive on Kauai? When did the island’s first settlers arrive? What was it like to live here centuries ago?

When I meet collections curator Chris Faye in the museum’s relic-filled heritage gallery, she tells me, “Just about everything in this room belongs to people from Kauai.” Among the artifacts are gleaming umeke kou—kou wood bowls used for serving food—and other calabash items once belonging to Kingdom of Hawaii royalty and Kauai’s own ali‘i such as Queen Deborah Kapule, the favorite wife of Kauai’s last monarch, King Kaumualii, who ruled from 1794 to 1810.

Kauai‘s story is not complete without at least a few chapters about Niihau. The museum's treasures from that island include antique strands of exquisite Niihau shell lei, handmade garlands made from tiny shells collected on its beaches.

Story continues on next page

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