Convention Center Unveils Hawaiian Cultural Exhibits

by Linsey Dower – Honolulu Star-Advertiser – February 17, 2023:

The Hawai‘i Convention Center unveiled two new Hawaiian cultural exhibits Thursday, one featuring a collection of traditionally crafted Hawaiian featherwork pieces, and an exhibit featuring a replica of the Healer Stones of Kapaemahu.

The featherwork exhibit, called the “Puali‘ahu Feather Cape Exhibit,” will be displayed at the center for the next two years, while the “Healer Stones” exhibit will remain at the center on permanent display.

“The work of these renowned artists brings to life the stories of Hawai‘i’s rich culture and history, enhancing each guest’s experience and appreciation for our islands,” Hawai‘i Convention Center General Manager Teri Orton said in a statement. “As a gathering place for our communities and thousands of visitors from around the world each year, we are pleased to make these exhibits accessible for everyone to enjoy.”

Since its opening 25 years ago, Orton said, the Hawai‘i Convention Center has hosted a rotation of art collections as well as a permanent art collection due to its partnership with the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and Arts’ “Art in Public Places” program.

The “Puli‘ahu Feather Cape Exhibit” features several feather capes, a feathered helmet and lei papale, according to the center’s news release. The display was designed by Rick San Nicolas and Kauila Kawelu Barber. San Nicolas is also the self-taught master featherworker who created the handmade feathered pieces.

“The backing of what the feathers are tied into is a real fine mesh that is cut into pieces and put into the shape of whichever cloak or feather cape that I’m making,” said San Nicolas, explaining how he creates each piece. “The feather bundles are all hand-tied and bound onto the netting, which would be the traditional method of what was done in ancient times.”

The largest cloak that San Nicolas has made, which will be on display in the center’s exhibit, is a replica of that worn by Pi‘ilani, an ancient high chief of the kingdom of Maui. At 9 feet wide, San Nicolas said it is believed to be the largest cloak to exist; it took him about 3,200 hours to make.

The exhibit also will feature a cape that San Nicolas designed from peacock feathers that Princess Ka‘iulani might have enjoyed. He also designed a series of battle cloaks, which are rarely seen in exhibits, according to the news release.

The “Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” exhibit, which was previously featured in a five-month exhibition at the Bishop Museum, includes a replica of an existing stone monument in Waikiki, adjacent to the district’s Honolulu Police Department.

The stones date back more than 500 years, and aside from what is mentioned on the Waikiki monument’s plaque, its full story has been largely passed down by word of mouth, the film director and researcher for the Kapaemahu project, Dean Hamer, previously told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“The stones honor four legendary mahu — individuals who embody both male and female spirit — who brought healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii many centuries ago,” according to the Hawai‘i Convention Center’s news release.

The Waikiki plaque displaying the story of the Kapaemahu Stones monument was last updated in 1997 and excludes the part of its history that recognizes the healers as mahu. However, Hamer said that there are plans underway to install an additional plaque that acknowledges the healers as people who embodied both female and male energies.

The “Puli‘ahu Feather Cape Exhibit” can be found at the Hawai‘i Convention Center on the mauka side of the center’s third floor, between rooms 302 and 306. The “Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” exhibit is also on the third floor, outside theater 320.

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