New Museum Grand Opening

By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor 

Photo by Jack Kiyonaga.

A new project dedicated to celebrating Molokai’s history and culture has been underway in Kaunakakai. The Molokai History Project (MHP) will open its doors this Friday, Oct. 6. 

Located at 145 Ala Malama St, the MHP moved quickly in the last couple of months to establish itself. 

Following the passing of Dr. Emmett Aluli last year, “people started feeling the urgency to create a place to gather memories,” said Judy Mertens, one the founding members and organizers of the MHP. 

Through three garage sales, the MHP was able to raise funding. 

“We kind of just did it,” said Mertens. “We had nothing, zero, to start with…this group has really pulled things together.”

The MHP accepted historical contributions from Molokai community members either as donations or on loan. The result is a stunning collection of Molokai’s past. 

The museum is laid out so that when you enter, Molokai’s history spreads out before you by region. The left wall has the history of the west end, the back wall showcases Kaunakakai, the right wall the east end. 

The theme for these opening curations is “faces of Molokai, places of Molokai.” 

Photos of Molokai events like rodeos and Makahiki, along with community members like Emmett Aluli, Mitchell Pauole, Walter Ritte and more adorn the walls. The exhibits range from pineapple plantation days to the Smith-Bronte plane crash to the Kaunakakai movie theater, an old Molokai Dispatch newspaper dispenser and more. 

Right now, the rotating exhibit features a detailed look at the famous Midnite Inn, complete with the old wooden sign that used to hang outside. 

“It’s a blast from the past,” said Nora Espaniola, one the founders and organizers of the MHP. 

The museum is “for those who don’t know. The kids nowadays, they don’t know really how Molokai used to look,” said Espaniola. People are going to want to come in, share memories and talk story, she explained. 

“Us old guys, we just know what was and how hard we worked to create what was,” explained Nan Walters, who likewise has helped establish the MHP. 

Photo by Jack Kiyonaga.

She hopes that this project will help “reignite pride for who we are as a community.”

The foundational group of the MHP describe the space as a place where Molokai families can learn more about their past, where teachers can bring students to do research, and visitors can get an authentic sense of what Molokai is all about. 

Hoping to sustain themselves financially on donations, and possibly grants, the MHP will be relying on the Molokai community’s support to keep the lights on. 

“The community interest is what is going to help this grow,” said Emily Pierro, another founding member.  “And the passion. The passion for everything that has taken place on Molokai and the future of Molokai. I think the interest is going to generate wonderful things.” 

The grand opening of the MHP will take place Friday, Oct. 6, at 9:45 a.m., and will feature opening remarks by Donna Paoa and a blessing by Jimmy Duvauchelle. 

Regular hours for the museum will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays. The MHP is also looking for volunteer docents to fill two-hour shifts once a week. Molokai community members can contact the MHP at molokaihistoryproject@gmail.com or (808) 283-0792.


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