‘It was never pono’: Story of missing Kamehameha statue underscores need for greater cultural awareness

In 2014, a statue of King Kamehameha in Vegas was moved to make way for an eatery

The mystery of a missing Kamehameha statue

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This is the story of the missing King Kamehameha statue in Las Vegas.

But it’s also a piece about tributes to one of Hawaiian history’s most recognizable figures, King Kamehameha, and how those tributes can go awry.

Across the nation, there are several sculptures dedicated to Kamehameha I, the king who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810 after years of conflict.

Historians say Kamehameha’s unification of the islands was significant because under separate rule, the islands may have been torn apart by competing western interests.

The ‘king’ of all king statues

The most visited Kamehameha statue in the world stands across from Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu.

It is a landmark. And it is revered, honored every year with lei.

Sculpted by Thomas Gould in Florence, this 18-foot bronze statue of Kamehameha is one of Oahu’s most photographed landmarks.
Sculpted by Thomas Gould in Florence, this 18-foot bronze statue of Kamehameha is one of Oahu’s most photographed landmarks. (GoHawaii.com)

The Hawaii Tourism Authority says the statue was dedicated in 1883. It was actually the second statue that was created to honor King Kamehameha after the ship delivering the original statue from Europe was lost at sea near Cape Horn.

This original statue was later found and erected in North Kohala on the Big Island, near King Kamehameha’s birthplace.

The original statue stands near the legendary king's birthplace in Kapaau in Kohala.
The original statue stands near the legendary king's birthplace in Kapaau in Kohala. (Pinterest)

What happened to the king’s spear?

A third statue of King Kamehameha is located in Hilo, and that likeness was vandalized in 2015 when the statue’s spear was removed.

Investigators found the spear in overgrowth behind the statue, and a suspect in the case was eventually convicted of theft and property damage.

A man was sentenced to five years in prison for damaging Hilo's King Kamehameha statue and stealing a portion of its spear.
A man was sentenced to five years in prison for damaging Hilo's King Kamehameha statue and stealing a portion of its spear. (Hawaii PD)

Kamehameha goes to Washington

There’s a fourth statue on Capitol Hill that was made from molds taken of the Honolulu figure.

It was donated by Hawaii in 1959, the year of statehood.

The statue’s extraordinary weight of of nearly six tons reportedly raised concerns that it might come crashing through the floor, so it was moved to Emancipation Hall of the new Capitol Visitor Center.

The statue in the Capitol was dedicated at a ceremony held on April 15, 1969 in the Capitol Rotunda.
The statue in the Capitol was dedicated at a ceremony held on April 15, 1969 in the Capitol Rotunda. (Road Side America)

A missing statue ― feared gone forever

And that brings us to the case of the missing Sin City statue, at the Hawaiian Marketplace off Las Vegas Boulevard.

The 80,000-square-foot shopping and restaurant center claims to bring a taste of island-style shopping to Vegas.

This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014.
This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014. (Road Side America)

Modeled after the International Marketplace in Honolulu, it features tropical plants, bright colors and what vegas.com calls “larger-than-life Hawaiian statues.”

Until a few years back, one of those (possibly culturally insensitive) casts was of Kamehameha I.

The travel blog RoadSideAmerica.com is one of the few places that has any record of the sculpture’s existence.

“The statue may be almost as large as the island versions, but is dwarfed by Vegas proportions,” according to the blog.

The statue was removed in 2014 to make way for a two-story Chili’s bar and grill, according to Vegas media.

But it gets worse.

This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014.
This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014. (Road Side America)

Hawaiian Marketplace’s property manager told Hawaii News Now that the statue was laid down on a flat trailer, carefully wrapped and brought to Springs Preserve for the annual Ohana festival.

Springs Preserve is a 180-acre attraction in Las Vegas, featuring botanical gardens, museums, family events.

And the preserve said in a statement that the statue was there for a time.

But when reached this week the attraction also relayed some bad news.

The statue, it said, "became weathered by the harsh desert elements over time and was beyond repair."

"It was disposed.”

Springs Preserve says it can’t remember where or how the statue was disposed, and the park said it meant no disrespect to the Hawaiian culture.

Cultural experts say the incident highlights the need for more education and cultural awareness.

“I think that shows the level of awareness that our community in general is at the moment and how we need to really push the envelope on how to educate communities to understand the significance of not only Hawaiian things, but things in general,” said Marques Hanalei Marzan, cultural adviser for the Bishop Museum.

Dorinda Burnet, president of the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, added that when the statue was erected at the Hawaiian Marketplace, there was “no one there from our culture to go ahead and OK it, so that statue was never pono.” She added, "They never asked permission, they never asked protocol, and you know it’s very important that all those things are in place before anything is pono.”

This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014.
This Kamehameha Statue stood on Las Vegas Blvd. until 2014. (Road Side America)

Although the Hawaiian Marketplace is not sure who made the statue, or if it’s similar to the other replicas in Hawaii and on Capitol Hill, cultural experts say protocol should have been in place from its first to final location.

“Any kind of collections that have a cultural connection have a significance to the communities that they come from, so we all have to be aware and conscious of the things we care for and that we take on the responsibility for and make sure that those things are cared for properly,” Marzan said.

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