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Honolululand of sun and sand

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History and Culture Among Paradise

Iolani Palace

By Ron Dahlquist

Iolani Palace staff begin a tour of the former Hawaiian royal residence.

Dig a little deeper into the land of surf and sun, and you’ll find just as much culture and history as you will sunshine.

Don’t miss the only official state residence of royalty in the United States, Iolani Palace. Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, the palace sits in the middle of Honolulu. Its guided tour describes the U.S. annexation of the islands—against the wishes of the Hawaiian people—and overthrow of the king to make Hawaii safe for American land barons.

After a morning visit to Iolani Palace, drive into the hills and tour the Queen Emma Summer Palace, saved and maintained by the venerable Daughters of Hawai’i, a group founded in 1903 by seven Hawaiian-born daughters of American missionaries. The summer palace can’t match Iolani’s formal grandeur, but the site hosts weekly Hawaiian culture classes featuring music and hula dancing.

While in history mode, explore the Bishop Museum, the Smithsonian of Hawaii. Islanders founded the museum in 1889 “to study, preserve and tell the stories of the cultures and natural history of Hawai’i and the Pacific.” New Zealand Renaissance man Te Rangi Hiroa (aka Sir Peter Buck) served as the museum’s first director. The first Maori physician in New Zealand, Buck also was an athlete, scholar, anthropologist and author. His honorary doctorate from Yale proclaimed: “First among those who know the peoples and cultures of the Polynesian world, medical doctor, warrior, ethnologist, author and poet, you have brought many races of people to greater understanding and peace.”

Today, even the visionary Buck would be astonished by the scope of the museum. In addition to exhibits on Hawaii and Polynesia, visitors can explore the Science Adventure Center—which features exhibits on oceanography, biodiversity and volcanoes—and the Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame.   
That’s a lot of history. Perhaps before more cultural adventures, another lazy swim is in order.

All Ears
From the feel of the sea to the smell of the frangipani, Hawaii engages all the senses. On Oahu, you’ll want to hear the Honolulu Symphony Pops, under the direction of the brilliantly audacious conductor Matt Catingub. With a Big Band background, Catingub brings humor and visual delight to symphony performances.Honolulu Symphony Pops concerts feel somewhat like sporting events, with a wildly enthusiastic audience, especially when Catingub takes the stage to conduct. In Honolulu, he’s a hometown hero.

Before boarding the plane back to reality, end your arts vacation on a light note, with a comedy show at the Kumu Kahua Theatre. This theater oozes history, housed in the former post office of the Hawaiian king. It specializes in productions about life in Hawaii and plays by the islands’ native playwrights. Don’t miss this jewel on the local theater scene.

Oahu’s arts are well worth a visit. In the words of Anne Marie Smoke, spokeswoman for the umbrella group Arts With Aloha: “There is so much Oahu offers beyond its beautiful beaches, Hanauma Bay and the USS Arizona Memorial. Our museums and arts venues can provide our visitors with a true sense of place, and that makes for a memorable vacation.”

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published by MSP Communications.

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