News: Mission: History - Mission Houses Museum offers programs, history lessons
Story by Kristen Wong
HONOLULU — During the 19th century, missionaries of the Protestant faith arrived in the Hawaiian islands, by order of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Boston organization met Henry Opukahaia, a young Hawaiian man, and wanted to share their religion throughout his island home.
Today, three houses once belonging to the missionaries were preserved, known as the Mission Houses Museum.
The Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society established the museum in
1923. The nonprofit organization is made up of members descended from the missionaries, or “mikenele” as the Hawaiians called them. The society continues to maintain this National Historic Landmark.
The Mission Houses Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For a small fee, the museum offers tours Tuesday through Saturday, every hour starting at 11 a.m. and the last one at 3 p.m. The museum also arranges group tours, such as elementary schools.
“We get a nice swath of people,” said Mike Smola, the curator of Public Programs at Mission Houses Museum.
Smola said the museum gets approximately 30,000 visitors annually.
The three existing mission houses, each constructed approximately 10 years apart from each other, accommodated well-known missionaries such as Levi Chamberlain and Hiram Bingham.
The oldest is called Ka Hale Luau, or “The Frame House.” Its original home was miles away on the east coast of North America. The other two houses are made of coral, respectively, Ka Hale Kamala, “The Chamberlain House,” and Ka Hale Pai, “The Printing Office.”
Ka Hale Pai was significant because it was created to print bibles for
the Hawaiian people, who kept no record of their language or customs. The missionaries also helped to create a “Hawaiian alphabet.”
But the museum offers more than a simple tour. From storytelling to craft fairs to ghost hunting, there are various events offered throughout the year. There is also a Café and Tea Parlor open Monday to Friday from 7:30 am to 3 p.m. and open for afternoon tea, on Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Just the variety keeps us coming back,” said Michelle Baie, of Honolulu.
Baie and her husband, Dick, have visited the museum numerous times. Dick Baie said he enjoys the printing press demonstrations the museum holds.
Recently, the Mission Houses Museum hosted one of its newer programs, “Cemetery Pupu Theater.” Its inaugural performance was in August 2011, and an average of 50 to 75 people usually attend. “Cemetery Pupu Theater” is held at Oahu Cemetery, on Nuuanu Avenue.
For a fee, visitors enjoy a live performance and refreshments. Tour guides lead visitors in separate groups around the grounds. Actors stand at specific graves, dressed in period costume, and bring to life the story of an individual buried in the cemetery.
“I thought it was a unique venue,” said Lisa Reichman, of Honolulu. “[It’s a] unique concept to have [actors playing] different people who were buried here tell us their stories.”
Reichman said the experience was as if the group was talking with someone they knew personally.
“The tour has been quite a draw,” Smola said. “This cemetery theater event has been a success for us. It’s a different way of presenting history.”
The purpose of the tour is to give people a perspective of history from “first person interpreters,” according to Smola. By presenting the story of a deceased person through a living actor, visitors have the opportunity to gain “an emotional connection” to the people of the past.
“I think it helps people understand the past better,” said Thomas Woods, the executive director of the Mission Houses Museum. “Every story here tonight connects with missionaries’ impact on life in Hawaii.”
Since the event began, new stories have been introduced, and some visitors come to Cemetery Pupu Theater again to hear them.
Honolulu resident Hilary Moody and her husband came for their second theater event on June 22. This time, they brought along their family and a friend.
“I was really excited to bring my kids to this one,” Moody said. “The last one was really well done.”
The cemetery tour and the museum are particularly close to Moody, because her ancestors are buried at Oahu Cemetery, and she is a descendant of Gerrit P. Judd, a missionary and the first physician to arrive on the islands.
“My ancestors are buried next to such amazing people,” Moody said.
Moody’s son, Tim, volunteers with the museum and its events.
“Every program [the museum puts] on, they do an amazing job,” Tim Moody said. “I think they tell a very interesting and realistic story [about the missionaries].”
Moody’s daughter, Laura, said she particularly enjoyed hearing the story of Lucy Goodell Thurston.
“I thought her story was very different from all the others,” Laura Moody said.
Hannah Isihida, the theater was a “family event.”
She and her family attended the event to watch her grandmother perform in “Cemetery Pupu Theater.” Among with Hannah, Helena Ishida said she found it “easy to engage” with the performers. Each performer portrayed their person as though time allowed each person the opportunity to return briefly to 2012, and tell their story.
“They’re not stuck to the script,” said Kailua resident Will Fuller. “If it rained, they mentioned the rain.”
Fuller said the theater was not only intimate, but well organized and historically accurate.
“If [patrons] want to know more about the history of Oahu, they should bring their family for sure,” Fuller said.
For more information about the Mission Houses Museum, visit http://www.missionhouses.org.