Hilo museum restores room
The Lyman Mission House "barter room" will be made public
HILO » In 1843, 65 years after the arrival of Capt. James Cook in Hawaii, money was still so scarce in Hilo that missionary Sarah Joiner Lyman had to barter to obtain a pet goat for her children.
Two years later, Sarah's missionary husband, David Belden Lyman, added a special room onto the side of the family home so he could store items there intended for barter with their Hawaiian neighbors.
The Lyman Mission House has been a museum since 1932, but the "barter room" was rebuilt as an apartment for the curator at about that time and has never been open to the public.
On Sunday, workers tore out interior walls and 1930s plumbing in preparation for a year of restoring the barter room to the way it was in an era when umbrellas were more valuable than money.
Yes, it rains a lot in Hilo, and local Hawaiians were delighted to receive umbrellas, perhaps in trade for work or food for the Lyman family, said Lyman Mission House and Museum Director Dolly Strazar.
They also liked cotton cloth, especially brown, but also beige and blue, said Mission House curator Jill Maruyama.
Local people needed endless hours to create native kapa cloth from the bark of the wauke tree, and they appreciated the ease of obtaining cloth from the missionaries.
Sarah Lyman taught local women to sew, and David Lyman repeatedly sent messages to the missionary depository in Honolulu asking for more brown cloth, Maruyama said.
The missionaries themselves did not receive a monetary salary, she said. Money did not become common in Hilo until the mid-1850s.
The goat Sarah obtained by barter cost her a handkerchief and a Spanish coin worth about 50 cents then, about $10 in present value.
David had established the Hilo Boarding School for boys in 1836, even before the missionaries' own house was built in 1839. Part of the barter room was used as David's office in his capacity as principal of the school, Maruyama said.
That office will also be re-created, and the space will tell the story of the school, which lasted until 1925, educating 800 boys in its 89 years, she said.
The boys were taught to read and write, but they were also educated according to missionary philosophy in practical work, which included growing their own food.
Much later, the school taught the boys how to make koa furniture, and some of that will be displayed when the barter room and office are open to the public.
The construction on the project is being overseen by Spencer Leineweber, an architecture professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The project is financed with two grants totaling $95,000 from the G.N. Wilcox Trust and the separate S.W. Wilcox Trust.