50 Years of Life: ʻUmeke from King Kalākaua’s Jubilee’ installation
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum has opened its latest installation in its historic Hawaiian Hall, “Fifty Years of Life: ʻUmeke from King Kalākaua’s Jubilee”.
The third-floor installation features three ʻumeke gifted to King David Kalākaua for his 50th birthday on November 16, 1886, and a bust of Kalākaua made by British sculptor Allen Hutchinson.
King Kalākaua is remembered fondly for his active promulgation of Hawaiian culture both nationally and internationally. As a supporter of Native art forms, technological innovation, and science, the aesthetics of Kalākaua’s governance demonstrated the king’s pride in the nation and its ingenuity.
Through his acts of diplomacy, Kalākaua spread Hawaiian culture around the world, while asserting the independence of his country. He is also the first reigning monarch to visit the White House in 1874, and the first to circumnavigate the globe in 1881.
The installation provides a glimpse into how Kalākaua’s subjects and relatives reflected the national aesthetic back to the king himself. In Hawaiʻi and across Oceania, the act of gift-giving solidifies and strengthens reciprocal relations.
The respect and aloha citizens felt toward King Kalākaua was evident in the sheer amount of ʻumeke he received for the occasion of his 50th birthday. ʻUmeke symbolize sustenance and plenitude because of their use in customarily carrying food and water. The three ‘umeke on view that were given to Kalākaua display what were contemporary interpretations of Hawaiian ‘umeke and illustrate new experiments by woodworkers in creating different styles of bowls.
“King Kalākaua is one our most beloved monarchs and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi celebrated his 50th birthday with 14 days of festivities,” said Sarah Kuaiwa, Bishop Museum curator of Hawaiʻi and Pacific cultural resources, and curator of the installation. “Part of our kuleana is to celebrate the lives of our aliʻi and we’re happy this installation will be on view during Kalākaua’s birthday this year.”
Kuaiwa worked with director of exhibits and production Brad Evans and graphic designer Ross Yamanaka to create an installation that reflected some of the events that took place during Kalākaua’s Jubilee.
“King Kalākaua’s Jubilee was a two-week event and we wanted to showcase various aspects of the celebrations in the installation design,” said Evans. “We have the three historic bowls, a bronze bust of King Kalākaua, and images that were taken during some of the festivities, including one of the throne room at ‘Iolani Palace filled with gifts. There are also replicas of ephemera from Bishop Museum Archives that give us a sense of the excitement surrounding the events honoring the king’s birthday. Across the front glass it says, ‘Long Live the King’ with an emblem specific to Kalākaua’s Jubilee.”
Kuaiwa said, “In putting this installation together, we inserted a few details for people to search for, such as finding the ʻumeke in the throne room photo. We hope for local ʻohana and visitors to come visit this installation and get a feel for the festivities that Kalākaua enjoyed during the celebrations.”
“Fifty Years of Life: ʻUmeke from King Kalākaua’s Jubilee” is on view on the third floor, Diamond Head-end of Hawaiian Hall through June 2024.
For more information on Bishop Museum and its cultural collections, visit BishopMuseum.org .