Brazil’s National Museum goes up in flames with ancient Hawaiian artifact inside

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Among the 20 million ancient artifacts housed at Brazil’s National Museum, we’ve learned one was from Hawaii.

A massive fire tore through the 200-year-old museum Sunday night. Much of the facility remains off-limits, awaiting examination by the Federal Police.

Officials have been reluctant to give any damage assessment, including what material may have been lost or salvaged, though many fear a majority of the museum’s priceless artifacts are gone forever.

Some of the pieces dated back centuries, including a feather cape that used to belong to King Kamehameha II. It’s unclear if the cape itself was destroyed.

“From the story that I’m familiar with, it travels with Liholiho while he and his court go to seek audience with the court, the king and queen of England during a certain period, in that early time of contact between what becomes a Hawaiian kingdom and western powers of the day,” explained Kapali Kuokalani Maile, culture educator for Bishop Museum. 

“The historical significance of that object I believe for us relates particularly to its association with Liholiho as an individual, Liholiho as a king in his own time, but also that travel, marking a period where our alii begin to seek relationships with countries, with nations, with peoples outside of the realm of the Pacific in a way to help address what would be coming to the future in Hawaii,” he added.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, though state firefighting officials said in a statement that the museum didn’t have certification that it was up to code.

The institution had recently secured approval for nearly $5 million for a planned renovation, including an upgrade of the fire-prevention system, but the money had not yet been disbursed.

Bishop Museum tells us it regularly tests its sprinklers and alarms, and has mandatory fire safety and emergency preparedness training for the staff.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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