Gathering of the gods


POSTED: Friday, June 04, 2010

From different corners of the world, the last three Hawaiian god or “;Ku”; statues known to exist have been brought together at Bishop Museum—two of them after an absence of more than 160 years.

The historic exhibit is the culmination of three years of planning to unite the king-size wooden sculptures from British and Massachusetts museums with the statue that already resided in Hawaii, said Timothy Johns, Bishop Museum president and chief executive officer, at yesterday's media preview in Hawaiian Hall.

Johns said he saw the three together for the first time earlier this week.

“;It was just remarkable,”; he said. “;I thought this would never happen. It really took my breath away. There are only three of this size left in the world.”;

Two of the statues are on loan from London's British Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum of Massachusetts. The partnership to unite artifacts of this magnitude was also a first for Bishop Museum, Johns added.

Peabody Director and Chief Executive Officer Dan Monroe said the statues are “;masterpieces which reflect the artistic genius of native Hawaiians.”;

The statues each weigh between 600 and 800 pounds, are 6 to 7 feet high and are at least 200 years old, Johns said. Ku is known throughout the Pacific as the god of procreation, prosperity and warfare.

Public photography is prohibited of the exhibit, “;E Ku Ana ka Paia: Unification, Responsibility and the Ku Image.”; It will be open for public viewing beginning tomorrow with a 9 a.m. ceremony fronting Hawaiian Hall.

The exhibit closes Oct. 4.

Noelle Kahanu, Bishop Museum's project coordinator, was tearing up throughout the preview, attended by supporters, Hawaiian cultural groups and artists. Hawaiians have dreamed and prayed since the 1970s about getting the three Ku together, she said.

“;It's been extraordinary, an incredible, joyful, profound moment for all of us,”; Kahanu said. “;For the Ku to come across oceans and continents and all the obstacles to be here, then there is hope for us as a people to come together and go forward.”;

Ku carver Sam Kaai of Maui said he felt tremendous joy to see the sculptures, which represent “;kunuiakea—deity in the great white light.”; Contrary to the common perception that Ku have a snarling, growling expression, “;I see a bright face, like a man greeting his children with the exhaling of 'Ha!' It's a smile,”; Kaai said.

Bishop Museum's statue was donated by Charles Reed Bishop in March 1895. The statue from Salem, Mass., was donated by sea Capt. John T. Prince in 1846 to the predecessor of the Peabody Essex Museum. British Museum Keeper Jonathan King said its Ku was originally a gift of W. Howard in 1839.