Symbol of Moanalua returns home

Caylen Maria Corpuz and Jameson Huang

Moanalua students were welcomed back from a relaxing summer vacation with a big surprise in front of the performing arts center. A large copper sculpture loomed over the walkway at the front of the school. This past summer, the sculpture titled Moanalua was mounted onto an outside wall of Moanalua High School’s Performing Arts Center. 

After an attempted theft of the piece almost two decades ago, Moanalua finally returned home. Mrs. Martin, the current principal of Moanalua, was a vice principal in 2004 and remembers seeing the removed sculpture in the middle of the teacher’s parking lot. 

“It was broken and bent,” Mrs. Martin said, “I imagine that they tried to load it onto a pick-up truck or something, but it’s huge.” 

The story behind the sculpture starts with the artist. Bumpei Akaji was a well-established sculptor from Hawaii Island. His large copper and brass sculptures can be seen all over the state. One of his most well-known works is the Eternal Flame, located across the street from the State Capitol building. He was chosen to create the sculpture titled “Moanalua” in 1976. The sculpture was commissioned and funded by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. According to the Hawaii Public Art Archive, the sculpture is of an abstract seascape, an ode to Moanalua’s watery origins. Moanalua was an important and sacred place for the Native Hawaiians. The volcanic hillside was used for religious rituals and the hillside was a place where they could be closer to the spirits and gods.

In 2015, Mrs. Martin started to draw the plans of the new performing arts center. Remembering the sculpture, she asked the builders to build a wall that would be strong enough to hold it. 

When Mrs. Martin contacted the Hawaii State Foundation of Culture and the Arts about finally having a spot for it; she found out that it wouldn’t be so easy to get the sculpture back. The foundation had stored it in a place where they could no longer pay the rent because of a change in Hawaii’s procurement laws. 

“I was shocked when I found that out, and it really came to a point where I thought we weren’t going to get it back,” Mrs. Martin said. 

Miraculously, a community member named Michael Gangloff heard about the situation and paid the rent needed. How Gangloff heard of the situation is unknown, but his company, Mira Image Construction, also restored the sculpture and mounted it onto its current spot on the performing arts center. 

“We owe him a great deal…because it was quite a lot of money. It was 15 years of rent, and that was just to get the sculpture back, it didn’t include restoring it and mounting it,” Mrs. Martin said. 

Moanalua was originally commissioned in 1975, and was created by an artist named Bumpei Akaji. Akaji passed away in 2003, a year before the piece was stolen, which made Moanalua even more important to restore and recover. The hillside Moanalua sits on were once used as sacred religious sites by the Native Hawaiians, inspiring Akaji to create an abstract scene of the sea and mountains that they cherished. 

Students around campus have been curious about the sculpture, shocked at its size and bold appearance. 

“I didn’t really know what it was, I just thought that someone basically threw an art piece up there to make it look all fancy and authentic,” junior E’mia Hawthorn said. 

Similar to Hawthorn’s view on the sculpture, senior Alexandria Burnett said, “I didn’t really know what to make of it at first. It was just huge and eye-catching, but I’m sure it means something to the school.”

After learning the history and meaning of the sculpture, Hawthorn and Burnett realized how great it was to get the sculpture back and mounted. 

“I think it’s great that we got it back, and I think it’s terrible that somebody stole it, but I think it really represents Moanalua’s culture and it’s a good symbol for our school,” Hawthorn said.