Hawaiian helmet worth $30,000 stolen from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park officials are on the lookout for a man suspected of stealing Hawaiian cultural artwork from the lobby of the park's historic Volcano House hotel earlier this month.

The stolen item is a contemporary replica of a crimson and yellow mahiole, a traditional helmet made of feathers that was worn only by Hawaiian chiefs to show their high rank, according to the National Park Service.

"The mahiole carries deep historical significance in Hawaiian culture," Robert Henderson, general manager for Hawaii Volcanoes Lodge Company, told USA TODAY.

The mahiole, or helmet, stolen on Jan. 13 from Volcano House took many hours to painstakingly make and is worth over $30,000.
The mahiole, or helmet, stolen on Jan. 13 from Volcano House took many hours to painstakingly make and is worth over $30,000.

Right before midnight on Jan. 13, a hotel worker "was distracted" and later noticed the clear acrylic display case across from the front desk had been broken into and the helmet was missing, Henderson said.

Hotel security cameras captured footage of a man carrying a red cloth about an hour before security saw the helmet was gone, said Jessica Ferracane, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokesperson.

The motive for the theft is unknown, she said, but the helmet has been estimated to be worth more than $30,000.

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The helmet was made by local artist Rick San Nicolas, a kumu hulu nui, or master featherworker, in what's usually a very intricate process done by hand. Depending on the size, a feather item can take hundreds of feathers and hours.

San Nicolas used roots of the Hawaiian ʻie ʻie vine to craft the helmet and dyed goose feathers to adorn it. Traditionally, feather gatherers would catch native birds like the red ʻiʻiwi to collect some of their vibrant feathers before releasing them back into the wild. However, many of the native birds once used for the items are now extinct.

The stolen helmet was made when San Nicolas was in the park's first artist-in-resident program in 2014. It was later purchased by the hotel.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the National Park Service by calling or texting 888-653-0009. Tips can also be submitted online or via email at nps_isb@nps.gov.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stolen cultural artwork from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park