By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
“Kapakahi Honu” has made its way home.
The 5-foot-long fiberglass and Styrofoam replica of a sea turtle with a shell brightly painted in various Hawaiian patterns was stolen in late October — while the island was under a tsunami warning — from a lanai outside Hawaii Island Adult Care’s Hilo Adult Day Center. Police were notified and posters with the turtle’s photo were distributed requesting that it be returned to police or the center.
Paula Uusitalo, HIAC’s executive director, was “very surprised” by the statue’s return to the center last Wednesday after an absence of about 3 1/2 months.
“He came home; some people call it a ‘he.’ So we’re all very happy,” Uusitalo said.
As it turns out, Wanda Gouveia, a 71-year-old widow living in Kaumana, and her daughter, Dee Gouveia, found the turtle about a month ago while hunting for bottles on a trail in the woods between the center and Carvalho Park, near the Wailuku River.
“She said, ‘Ma what are you stepping on?’ I said, ‘The ground, I hope.’ And I started laughing,” Wanda Gouveia recalled. “She said, “No, what is that?’ She started walking toward me and one of the fins was sticking up, but the rest of it was all covered with leaves and shrubbery and all that. So she grabbed hold of the fin and pulled, and when she jerked it, it wobbled. … She pulled it out of the ground and said, ‘That’s one turtle.’ I said, ‘One turtle? Way up here?’ And she said, ‘No, one fake turtle.’ So she started cleaning it off, and I said, ‘Oh, I found one turtle. I’m taking him home.’
“My granddaughter helped us clean it and shoot it down with water and take all the mud and dirt off of it. And we left it in the garage, because it had water in the bottom.’”
Eventually, they moved the turtle behind the house and one of Gouveia’s grandsons came home from school and told her that he had seen a poster at the Kaumana 7-11 store with a photo of the honu, requesting its return.
“He said, ‘Get one “wanted” poster for the turtle.’ … He said, ‘They lost the turtle, but was in October.’ I said, ‘October? That’s kinda far back.’ You sure it’s the same turtle?’ He said, ‘Yeah, looks like,’” Gouveia said.
Gouveia went to the 7-11 the next day, obtained the poster and compared the statue with the photo.
“I looked at it and I said, ‘That’s the turtle. Aw, my turtle. I no like give him back, but I no can keep him. It’s theirs,’” she said.
Gouveia called police, and the honu statue was returned to the center, where the clients are mostly senior citizens.
“Evidently, somebody went steal him but couldn’t bring him out of the woods, so left him there for a better time,” she said. “And I brought him out, not thinking it was (stolen). So I got to give him back because that’s their turtle. But I’m gonna go visit him every once in awhile.”
Gouveia and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Diamond Gouveia, made their first visit to see the replica reptile at the day care center on Monday. When she saw Kapakahi Honu inside the center’s door sporting a red lei, she said, “It’s nice they give him one lei to welcome him home.”
The honu was part of a 2008 art project called “It’s a Honu World,” the brainchild of Hilo artist Karen Kaufman. The project enlisted 35 Big Island artists, all of whom decorated large sea turtle forms in support of local nonprofit organizations. Kapakahi Honu was painted by Puna artist Vicki Vierra, who said she researched the motifs painted on the turtle’s shell for years. Koehnen’s Interiors donated Kapakahi Honu — so named for the patchwork of Hawaiian and Polynesian kapa and tattoo designs adorning the turtle’s shell — to the adult day center in 2010.
“I’m so thrilled to hear the news,” Vierra said Monday afternoon. “And I’m not too surprised to hear that it was found near the river, because whoever took it probably took it for a swim and then parked it there or something.”
A plaque on the statue’s base was missing and there was some damage to the turtle itself, but it was minor, said Uusitalo.
“She and her daughter cleaned it, so it’s in great shape,” Uusitalo noted. “We have it inside the place now, so people come and pet it all the time. It’s so sweet.”
Added Vierra: “I’m so thrilled to hear it’s back and just thrilled to hear that people have feelings about it.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.