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In the Royal Palace of America? Hawaii Big Island Hulihe’e Palace in Kailua Kona

Closed for repairs after the October 16, 2006 earthquake, Hulihe’e Palace, the jewel of Kailua Kona, will reopen to the public soon. So what is the history of this unique Royal Palace, one of only two, in America?

Introduction: It is said that the ghosts of Hawaiian monarchs still haunt this palace, up and down the grand staircase and around the grounds. Built by Governor James Kuakini in 1838 as a home, it was used for many years by Hawaiian royalty as a summer getaway palace, a venue for grand galas and parties. Abandoned to ruin in 1914, since 1928 the Palace has been operated as a museum by the Daughters of Hawaii.

Also on the Palace grounds are the Pohaku Likanaka, a ceremonial execution stone, a fish pond, and the Palace Gift Shop, which has many fine art items and hard-to-find books on Hawaiian.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm Friendly and knowledgeable docents offer free tours, which last about 45 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for students; Photography inside the museum is prohibited.

History: One of the most interesting things about the Palace is the derivation of its name, Hulihe’e. Huli means “to spin or turn” and comes from the same root as “hula” the “spinning dance”. He’e is a generic term for cephalopods (octopuses and squids). The term “spin octopus” does not refer to an aquatic species, but to a form of tactical defense employed by the Hawaiians when defending the shoreline against superior attacking forces. Defenders are outstretched on arms, or tentacles, that rotate from area to area as waves of attackers come ashore.

Hulihe’e Palace was built by High Chief (later Governor) James Kuakini in 1838 as a home. After her death, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani lived in a grass house (hale pili) on the grounds, the foundations of which are still visible. The palace then returned to being a summer party palace for Hawaiian royalty, then residing in Honolulu, especially King Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch, until it became an abandoned ruin in 1914. Prince Kuhio, the first A delegate to Congress from Hawaii, he inherited the Palace from his father and in the 1920s decided to auction off all the furnishings. Palace staff numbered each room and noted who the buyers were.

Around the turn of the century, the Palace fell into disrepair and provided a discreet place for men to gather in the evenings, play poker and drink by the light of kerosene lamps. The Daughters of Hawaii, learning in 1920 that the Inter Island Steamship Company planned to acquire and tear down the Palace to build a luxury resort on the royal grounds, salvaged the Palace and have operated it as a museum ever since. The Daughters of Hawaii found the old buyers list for the furniture that Prince Kuhio had auctioned off and persuaded many of the owners to return, resell, or permanently loan these priceless pieces to the Museum.

Today, the museum contains an impressive array of Native Hawaiian artifacts, from fish hooks to clubs to combs. The walls are hung with many portraits of Ali’i and Westerners important to Hawaiian history. There’s also intricately carved furniture by local and European masters like Wilhelm Fisher, including massive beds, impressive armoires, and a 6-foot-diameter table carved from a single koa log.


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