A plaque denoting Mo‘okini Heiau as a registered national historic landmark was recently cut or pried loose from a boulder and stolen from the centuries-old North Kohala temple.
The heiau, less than a half-mile from the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, is where the legendary warrior king was taken for his birth rites. It is considered a living spiritual temple and a sacred site in the Native Hawaiian religion.
“I’m very upset, totally upset. You know, this is the second time that it’s happened,” said Leimomi o Kamehae Kuamo‘o Mo‘okini Lum on Monday. “I was totally beside myself trying to figure out why would they want to do something like that.
“I haven’t been able to sleep, because I can’t understand why.”
Since 1978, Lum — now in her 90s, the first woman to be a Honolulu police officer and the widow of the former state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Alexis Lum — has been kahuna nui (high priestess and caretaker) of the heiau, which is on her family’s ancestral lands.
The first time the plaque was dislodged was shortly after its installation in 1963, according to Lum, who said it was found on the heiau grounds, damaged.
“We had it sent to Pearl Harbor, and Pearl Harbor straightened it out, and then we put it back,” she said.
This time a search by Lum and a state Department of Land and Natural Resources archaeologist didn’t turn up the missing plaque.
Big Island state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Water and Land Committee, said she’s “very disappointed and so sad, as well.”
“This is unacceptable. It’s so sad that there’s an interruption at a cultural site. I’m heartbroken to see this happen,” Inouye said. “It’s very disturbing to me that someone would (enter) the property, and yet there’s a locked gate. And someone who’s very crafty. They had to do a lot of work to get that. Why is this plaque so important to this person or persons? You can’t get to the site unless you take the old Upolu Road that goes down to the airport and then traverse along the shoreline to get up to the property.”
Inouye noted the site was designated a national historic landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, but is part of the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument, as well, so jurisdiction will need to be decided.
Police have been notified, Lum said.
Angela Thomas, Lum’s daughter, noted the remote nature of the heiau on the North Kohala coastline, the bumpy nature of Upolu Road — which is best traveled with 4-wheel drive — and the fact the site’s locked gate remained locked.
“They must’ve come with tools. They were committed. This was planned,” Thomas said.
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