Third Hawaiian flag stolen from altar at UH Manoa

Third Hawaiian flag stolen from altar at UH Manoa
Kalaniakea Wilson placing a new flag on the altar
Kalaniakea Wilson placing a new flag on the altar

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu police are called to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Monday morning after a third Hawaiian flag was reportedly stolen from an 'ahu or altar in recent weeks.

The latest reported theft happened in front of the Queen Lili'uokalani Center for Student Services.

The 'ahu was built in 2000 when the Center was dedicated, but a tree started growing through it. With support and permission from UH Administration, about 50 students, faculty and staff members helped reconstruct the altar in late November.

"Queen Lili'uokalani's government was overthrown in 1893 and she was imprisoned, so the flag that was upside down was to honor that event and that there's still a claim that hasn't been resolved for over 122 years," said Kalaniakea Wilson, a Political Science doctoral candidate.

Wilson says Monday morning a Hawaiian Studies professor discovered the bamboo pole they erected from the 'ahu in dedication to Queen Lili'uokalani had been snapped and the Hawaiian flag once flying from it was gone.

"As someone who is promoting the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the need for reconciliation - that was very painful for him," said Ku'umeaaloha Gomes, the Kua'ana Native Hawaiian Student Development Services Program Director. 

This is not the first time a Hawaiian flag has disappeared from campus.

Two others -- both displayed next to 'ahu, one at Bacchman Hall and the other at the altar built in recognition of Mauna Kea earlier this year -- were also reported stolen to UH Campus Safety. This time around, students called police.

"When this one happened it was like - okay, this is the third one. Now there's a pattern here. When we look at issues of abuse on campus, we look at patterns -- and this is clearly a pattern of abuse against Native Hawaiians," said Gomes.

UH officials say they were also aware the Hawaiian flag was upside down and understood its significance.

"We are in distress and so we use it as a signal to be able to educate folks who ask. Myself personally,

I've had students stop me and ask - why is the flag being flown upside down? It's an opportunity to respond to that," said Gomes.

That's exactly what students say they intended -- discussion.

"It's supposed to be a safe climate to share research and education, which is the history of Hawaii which is re-emerging now. You know, our main culprit is ignorance and people acting from ignorance and violently doing things like this," said Wilson.

Students on campus say whether the flag was stolen as a prank or a political statement, it was inappropriate.

"Maybe somebody will have the heart and return it. Hopefully. Not okay, I don't think it's cool," said Vincent Karver, an Interdisciplinary Studies student.

"I'm not Hawaiian, but I think that's very disrespectful and unnecessary," said Marietta Lafaele, a Chemistry and Public Health student.

UH officials say there has been a good deal of discussion about the flag since it went up two weeks ago -- mostly from students wondering why it was upside down. Students involved with the rebuilding of the 'ahu say they were only aware of one complaint from a fellow student asking it be taken down -- and that happened just last week. 

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