Welcome to Shangri-La

Sophia Rose Shafi

Posted Feb 27, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Welcome to Shangri-La

By Sophia Rose Shafi

An Islamic museum is not what the mind normally conjures up when thinking about the Hawaiiian islands.  Beautiful valleys, waterfalls, and beaches, pineapple fields, and the television show LOST, perhaps, but an estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Islamic treasures in every room, a Persian garden, and jail screens everywhere?  Welcome to Shangri-La.
Shangri-La is an exquisite estate located in the swanky area known as Kahala, hidden behind a gate, down a short but windy road is the small but exquisite Islamic-Hawaiian home of Doris Duke.

The story of Ms. Duke’s love of Islamic art and culture is worth telling, as is her affection for Hawai’i and her people.  Ms. Duke’s honeymoon included a visit to the Taj Mahal, one of many stops on a ten-month long journey that also included Indonesia, Egypt and China.  The Mughal mausoleum made a profound impression on the newlywed. 

On her return home, a short rest in Hawai’i turned into a four-month stay, during which she became friends with the Kahanamoku brothers, including Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, the five-time Olympic medal swimmer who popularized surfing – a sport Ms. Duke learned to master in short time.  Shortly thereafter, she purchased the land on which Shangri-La is built, and began plans for this modest, albeit stunning, home.

Ms. Duke spent much of her life building Shangri-La, collecting its treasures and perfecting the interior walls, ceilings, and floors of the home.  Among these treasures, her collection includes a thirteenth-century mihrab from the tomb of Imamzada Yahya.  As remarkable as the collections housed in her estate, from Morocco, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and other lands, the home is as spectacular.  Islamic in much of its style and decoration, Shangri-La also pays homage to the Hawaiian style with its lana’i overlooking the Pacific and Diamond Head as well as a swimming pool (with a disappearing diving board, so one can imagine they are looking at a Persian garden).

Perhaps what is most memorable, however, about Shangri-La is the intention of its benefactor.  Ms. Duke was strongly committed to cultural understanding and tolerance.  Shangri-La was built out of her love of Islamic culture and of Hawai’i.  At her death, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art was established, to take care of her home, encourage further studies in Islamic art and architecture, and honor her belief in the beauty and diversity found in Islam – certainly a legacy worth remembering.


Virtual tour available online at http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/page.asp?pageId=5 
Photographs of Shangri-La http://www.bluewaikiki.com/bw_ShangriLa.html
Shangri-La website http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/