Closed for repairs following the October 16, 2006 earthquake, Hulihe’e Palace – the jewel of Kailua Kona – is slated to reopen to the public soon. So – what is the story behind this unique, one of only two Royal Palaces in America?
Introduction: It is said that the ghosts of the Hawaiian monarchs still haunt this palace, walking up the grand steps and around the grounds. Built by Governor James Kuakini in 1838 as a home, it was used for many years by the Hawaiian royal family as a summer palace, venue for great galas and parties. Dilapidated into ruin in 1914, the Palace has been run as a museum by the Daughters of Hawaii since 1928.
Also on the grounds of the Palace are Pohaku Likanaka, a ceremonial execution stone, a fish pond and the Palace Gift Store, which has many works of art and hard-to-find books about Hawai’iana.
The museum is open from Monday to Friday from until 4 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at Until 4:00 PM There are friendly and knowledgeable teachers who offer free tours that last approximately 45 minutes. Admission is $ 5 for adults, $ 4 for seniors and $ 1 for students; photography inside the museum is not allowed.
History: One of the more interesting things about the Palace is the origin of its name, Hulihe. Huli means “to turn or to twist” and comes from the same source as “hula” or “dance of the turns.” He’e is the general term for cephalopods (octopuses and squids). The term “spinning octopus” does not refer to an aquatic species, but rather a form of tactical defense used by Hawaiians to defend the coast from overwhelming attacking forces. Defenders are spread out in arms or tentacles that pivot from area to area as waves of attackers come ashore.
Hulihe’e Palace was built by the Supreme Commander (later governor) James Kuakini in 1838 as a home. After his death, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani lived in a grass house (drank halls) in this area, the foundations of which are still visible. The palace was then turned into the summer royal palace of the Hawaiian royal family and then residing in Honolulu, notably the king of Kalakaua – The Merrie Monarch – until it was abandoned and fell into disrepair in 1914. Prince Kuhio, Hawaii’s first delegate to Congress, inherited the Palace from his father and in the 1920s decided to auction off all the equipment. The Palace staff numbered each item and wrote down who the buyers were.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Palace fell into disrepair and was a discreet place for men to gather in the evenings, play poker and drink by the light of kerosene lamps. The daughter of Hawaii, when she learned in 1920 that the Inter Island Steamship Company was planning to acquire and demolish the Palace in order to build a luxury resort on royal lands, saved the Palace and has been running it as a museum ever since. The daughters of Hawaii found the old list of buyers for the equipment put up by Prince Kuhio at auction and convinced many owners to return, resell, or permanently borrow these priceless works from the Museum.
Today, the museum contains an impressive array of native Hawaiian artifacts, from fish hooks to clubs and combs. On the walls were many portraits of Ali and Western people important to Hawaiian history. There are also intricately carved furniture by local and European masters such as Wilhelm Fisher, including massive beds, impressive armor, and a 6-foot-wide table carved from a single koa log.