Monday, June 7, 2010

Historic kū reunited at Bishop Museum

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

History was made yesterday as the Bishop Museum debuted three ancient kū brought to the Islands from England and Massachusetts.

The exhibit of carved figures will be open for public viewing Saturday through Oct. 4 at the newly renovated Hawaiian Hall.

Two of the kū returned to Hawai'i for the first time in more than a century since they were given to the British Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.

They are the last three of their type and size — each about 6 feet tall and more than 800 pounds — known to exist in the world.

Kū typically represent different aspects of life: prosperity, warfare and procreation. The kū on display are the art of carving Kū, Na Maka O Kū; the many faces of Kū; and the politics of Kū.

The three kū stand together in the center of the Hawaiian Hall with a related interpretive display in the nearby J.M. Long Gallery.

"This exhibit represents a new chapter in the museum history," said Blair Collis, Bishop Museum chief operating officer. "It's an opportunity to welcome a living culture. The museum is not just a place to preserve culture, but to celebrate a living culture."

The kū from England was carved out of breadfruit tree wood with metal tools.
When it arrived in Honolulu this week, it was briefly detained because the box said it contained breadfruit, said Jonathan King, British Museum keeper. But it was soon discovered that it was not fruit, but an ancient statue.

It is believed to have been carved between 1790 and 1810, King said.

"We don't know when they were taken away," King said. "The research has only just begun."

The exhibit has been in the making for more than 30 years. It was made possible by a grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Hawaiian Airlines, said Donalyn Dela Cruz, museum spokeswoman.