A new virtual exhibit opening soon at the Kauaʻi Museum will feature unbelievably realistic, animated 3D images of Hawaiian aliʻi, and use technology as a storytelling tool to educate learners in a unique and engaging way. This image from the Kauaʻi Museum's website captures five of the aliʻi. Depicted L-R: Liwai, a kāhili bearer; Kealiʻiahonui, youngest son of King Kaumuali'i and Queen Kapuaamohu; Princess Kelea, a wahine warrior considered the best surfer on Kauaʻi; Kiaʻimakani, Protector of the Winds and a war chief of Kaumualiʻi; Kaheʻe, a war chief of Kaumualiʻi. - Photo: Kauaʻi Museum www.kauaimuseum.org/xr

Kauaʻi residents and visitors will soon have an opportunity to learn the rich, fascinating and sometimes controversial history of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi’s royal families via a new exhibit at the Kauaʻi Museum in Līhuʻe.

The exhibit will include a special emphasis on King Kaumualiʻi, the last king of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. His kingdom, alone, did not fall to the ambitions of King Kamehameha I and, after brokering a peace treaty, Kaumualiʻi ruled peacefully as a vassal king from 1810 until 1821 until he was abducted by King Kamehameha II and forced to marry Queen Kaʻahumanu.

“King Kaumualiʻi is the star here,” Kauaʻi Museum Executive Director Chucky Boy Chock said. “He is the biggest difference between us and other island museums.”

“Long before the small group of non-native Hawaiians plotted the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893 – which set in motion the annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1898 – there was Kauaʻi’s fight for independence in the early 1800s,” Chock said.

“Our amazing team of volunteers walk our guests through the preserved artifacts from the infamous ship, Haʻaheo o Hawaiʻi, the luxury vessel King Kamehameha II used to capture King Kaumualiʻi. Smithsonian archaeologists excavated the Hanalei Bay shipwreck nearly two centuries later and have donated most of the rare discoveries to the museum.”

Now the museum has partnered with nonprofit Kamāwaelualani Corp. and web designer Kauaʻi Dev to create an immersive educational experience and bring the exhibits to life with Extended Reality (XR).

“Awakening of the Ancestors” is an exhibit at Kauaʻi Museum that showcases Kauaʻi aliʻi using XR, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Aliʻi will “be awakened” in three-dimensional form, where learners can see the aliʻi represented in a realistic form as if they were in the same room as the museumgoer. Combining the cutting-edge technology of XR with unique Kauaʻi Kānaka Maoli culture produces a powerful learning experience.

“It’s really for our keiki of Kauaʻi. What better way to use this technology than to inspire keiki to learn more about Hawaiian heritage? For the Awakening of the Ancestors exhibit we have created a series of three installations using XR to bring our aliʻi and artifacts in the Kauaʻi Museum into the three-dimensional realm with interactive educational technology,” Chock said.

An exhibit using this degree of technology is especially powerful for Kauaʻi because the island is often under-resourced when it comes to technology. Moreover, this exhibit will be the first to feature Kānaka Maoli historical figures and artifacts using XR technology for the purpose of not-for-profit community education.

“This technology isn’t at risk of going obsolete. The characters have been mapped to Kauaʻi Museum, so this is where they live. XR is adaptable so we can change what they say and what they do. If we have the vision and the resources, the sky is the limit,” said Keoni Takekawa, the XR developer in the hui who’s the artist behind the virtual creations. “Sharing these virtual creations with the community is a dream.”

This project is especially powerful because it uses technology as a storytelling tool to educate learners – particularly Kauaʻi youth who are already adept at using technology – to connect to Kauaʻi-specific Kānaka Maoli history in a way they haven’t before.

Nikki Cristobal is co-founder and executive director of grassroots Kamāwaelualani which is a partner in the project. “The learning flows seamlessly when keiki get to witness the ancestors of Kauaʻi being awakened before their very eyes using a platform that they’re excited to get their hands on,” she said.

This project has tapped cultural practitioners from the community as experts to help inform the creation of the exhibits.

At Kauaʻi Museum, learners will use 3D goggles and/or their smartphones to view the XR creations. Images, text, 3D animations, and/or sounds are superimposed to aid the learner to explore the content in-depth. “The bigger vision of this project is to inspire the next generation of Kauaʻi programmers, designers, and cultural knowledge bearers to be creators of culture using technology instead of being passive consumers as they are currently,” said Nani Holroyd, an XR developer working on the exhibit through Kauaʻi DEV.

Six virtual kūpuna and a collection of virtual artifacts are being developed. These digital assets have been used to create three AR exhibits in the museum and two short video animations, allowing museum visitors to explore Kaua’i’s history in a unique and engaging way.

Chock said this series is just the beginning of a larger effort to bring more artifacts, ancestors, and moʻolelo into the virtual space to immerse museum guests more fully into Kauaʻi’s history.