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Art, Culture and the History of Native Hawaiians


The Linden-Museum in Stuttgart, has a special exhibition from 14 October, 2017, to 13 May, 2018, called “Hawai`i – Königliche Inseln im Pazifik” (Hawai`i – Royal Islands in the Pacific).  It will be the first major exhibition in Germany to focus on the history, art and culture of Native Hawaiians.


The Linden-Museum is one of the largest museums of ethnology in Europe.  As a state museum it hosts a broad collection of 160,000 objects from Oceania, Africa, North America, Latin America, the Islamic world, South Asia and East Asia.  The Pacific Art collection alone comprises almost 29,000 items from Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia and Australia, with 91 of those originating from Hawai`i.


Held over 1,000 square metres and in four halls the exhibition has more than 200 impressive objects from the Linden-Museum’s collection, public international lenders,1 and also some private collections. 


By presenting traditional and contemporary objects, together with written sources and illustra-tive art of the 18th and 19th centuries, the exhibi-tion not only illuminates the traditional (material) culture of Hawai`i, but also sheds light on the political and natural history of the Hawaiian archipelago.  


After the first encounters with Western seafarers, Native Hawaiian life underwent enormous trans-formations.  From 1778 until 1959, during a period of less than two centuries, Hawai`i changed from an isolated traditional Polynesian society to a US state with global connections.  In this context, the European perception of Hawai`i as a South Seas paradise, a prime incentive used in the marketing of Hawai`i as a tourist destination, is also one of the underlying themes of the exhibition.


Another aspect of the exhibition will be the various ways European collectors acquired objects, both ceremonial and of everyday life, and the circumstances under which they entered European collections.  Captain James Cook is one of the most famous people involved—his quest for the North West Passage carried him into Hawaiian waters in 1778, during his Third Voyage. 


Over 40 unique objects acquired on this voyage have been lent to the exhibition.2  For example, beautiful eighteenth-century barkcloth (Kapa), impressive feather cloaks (`Ahu ` ula) made of thousands of feathers, feather helmets (Mahiole), fishhooks, spears, fearsome shark-tooth weapons, a sharkskin-covered drum (Pahu), and the fierce looking feathered image that is supposed to represent Kūkāilimoku, Kū.3  It is featured prominently on the exhibition poster.

Most of the Cook objects have been displayed in other, previous exhibitions around the world, but some of the other objects are on display for the first time.  These fascinating pieces also show the excellent craftsmanship of Native Hawaiians, such as beautiful bracelets made of boar tusks, neck ornaments worn by Hawaiian royalty (Lei niho palaoa), poi pounders used to mash steamed Kalo, decorated gourds, fish hooks of various sizes and form, octopus lures made of cowrie shells, and remarkable wooden god images. 


A special highlight will be ten contemporary works of art by extraordinary Native Hawaiian artists, such as Kapulani Landgraf, Ka`ili Chun, April A. H. Drexel, Abigail Romanchak, Maika`i Tubbs and Marques Marzan.  


From an indigenous perspective they throw light on issues such as cultural identity, the heteronomy of Hawai`i, its (political) history, and the devasta-tion of its environment.  Through photography, installations and prints, they create a connection of their mythological past and the present—just as the exhibition and its various topics range from some of the oldest known objects collected on Cook’s Third Voyage to Hawai`i’s vibrant art scene of the 21st century.


Finally, the exhibition will be accompanied by an attractive programme of activities, including hula workshops, Hawai`i inspired cooking classes, theme days, discussions, concerts and movies.  All activities will pick up on the topics seen in the exhibition, for example, the traditional Hawaiian art forms of tattooing (Kākau) and dance (Hula) that were devalued by missionaries and politics, and the origin of surfing (He`e nalu) and outrigger sport.

Native Hawaiians historically were highly skilled voyagers and navigators, and are very active in fostering and passing this knowledge to the next generation before the knowledge gets lost.  After long periods of suppression by external forces they have been very dedicated for decades in the revital-ization of their culture, language and traditions.  Today, not only do numerous schools teach children (in their Hawaiian language) traditional skills and techniques, one also sees increased expression of traditional custom and aesthetic in Hawaiian everyday life. 

Stephanie Walda-Mandel


1.Public international lenders include the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the National Museum in Copenhagen, Bernisches Historisches Museum in Berne, Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich, Ethnologische Sammlung der Universität Göttingen in Göttingen, Landes-museum Hannover in Hannover, the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim, Deutsches Tapetenmuseum in Kassel, and Kieler Stadt- und Schifffahrtsmuseum in Kiel.

2.Cook voyage objects are on loan from Cambridge, Edinburgh, Berne, Göttingen, and a private collection. 

3.Kū was the ancestral war god of Kamehameha the Great, who conquered and united the Hawaiian Islands by 1810.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 40, number 3 (2017).


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