Recently the museum received a mysterious package literally addressed to the “Korean Room,” aka our Korean Gallery. The nondescript cardboard box lacked a return address and only listed a P.O. box on the Big Island.

Inside the anonymous box was a brassware set that belonged to a picture bride who came from Korea to Hawaʻi in the early 20th century. This kind of set was used for ancestral rites and features motifs of i-ching hexagrams and bats, which mean good luck. Strangely enough, it seemed like one item was produced in Turkey. 

The bowls, used for ceremonial purposes, featured Korean flag symbols.

The bowls, used for ceremonial purposes, featured Korean flag symbols.

It gets more intriguing. The box also included a brief letter that said: “In 1910, my former landlady came to Hawaiʻi from Korea as a picture bride. These were part of her dowry. I hope you can use them in your museum.” The donor and bride remained anonymous. 

An anonymous donor wrote a succinct note in the package.

An anonymous donor wrote a succinct note in the package.

Our collections team determined that the set was not suitable for the museum’s collection but was unsure of what to do with it. After much researching, the library’s Ellie Kim learned of the Museum of Korea Emigration History’s collection of artifacts relating to picture brides. So our registrar, Pauline Sugino, reached out to the Incheon, Korea-based institution to offer transferring them the brassware set.

They happily accepted and received the set (safe and sound!) in mid-July. “Thank you very much for your kind cooperation,” Hyuna Lee of the Museum of Korea Emigration History wrote to Sugino in an email. “These bowls will be registered as the collection.”

Now the brassware set can live on as a snapshot of history that pertains to both Korea and the islands.

“You can be a part of a whole cultural preservation thing,” Sugino says of the transfer. “You just have to talk to each other.”