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Tsunami museum pleads for return of sculpture parts

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo is asking for the public’s help with finding missing parts from a beloved sculpture at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Kalakaua Street.

The original work of art belonging to the museum was damaged during the weekend of June 24.

The sculpture depicted Hawaiian goddess of the sea Namakaokahai, elder sister of fire goddess Pele, riding a sea turtle. The heads of Namakaokahai and the turtle were removed from the sculpture.

“That’s the thing that we thought was so strange,” said Marlene Murray, the museum’s executive director. “They didn’t just bash the head off. They took it with them.”

The piece was carved from lava rock throughout the course of two years by Hilo sculptor Fred Soriano.

Soriano said he can repair the sculpture if the missing parts are returned.

“It’s making me wonder,” he said. “The cut, it’s kind of clean and precise. I don’t know if these were professional art thieves. If it was just vandals, they would just leave the parts laying around, yeah?”

Police requested help from the public to find those responsible for the vandalism, which is considered criminal property damage. Surveillance video from neighboring businesses might play a role.

Soriano donated the Namakaokahai sculpture to the museum a few years ago in response to a request from a community leader. Prior to that, he listed the sculpture for sale at $10,000. The museum estimates its current value at $15,000.

However, Soriano pointed out, the work was created without any photos or references to guide him and cannot be recreated. He said he will either repair it — if the missing heads are returned — or will seek input to see if museum staff wants him to remove the turtle and Namakaokahai, leaving behind the wave already present as part of the sculpture — something he thinks would match the museum’s tsunami focus.

“If you remove the statue, then, in a sense, you’re giving in to whoever vandalized it,” he said.

Kini Gonzalez, administrative assistant at the museum, is asking those who took the heads to return them, or let the museum know where they are.

“If somebody has it, and if they return it, then that’s OK,” she said. “He just wants to make things pono.”

Murray said museum visitors who have stopped in since the damage have expressed shock, outrage and sadness.

“Mostly, people ask why, why would somebody do such a thing?” she said. “I guess I’m surprised, too, how many people have come forward and said they just loved it.”

She said when staff and docents, who share stories about Hilo’s devastating tsunami, first saw the sculpture damage, it made them sick to their stomachs because the sculpture was part of the museum. In the days that followed, she said, they realized community members, too, felt a connection to the sea goddess sculpture.

Police are asking anyone with information to call the nonemergency number at 935-3311 or Officer Gregg Silva of South Hilo Community Policing at 961-8121.

Tribune-Herald Reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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