Mahalo to Mr. Marc and Lynne Benioff for their generous display of aloha in donating a 200-year-old Hawaiian kii to the Bishop Museum. The Benioffs purchased the relic from Christie's in Paris for $7 million, with the intention of bringing the relic home to Hawaii for the public to enjoy and for education purposes. The carving was likely a relic of a temple on the Big Island, where King Kamehameha I prayed to Ku to unify the Hawaiian islands, Benioff said. The carving was likely a part of a wider collection of other sacred Hawaiian relics sent to Europe by missionaries. Benioff has also pledged to donate 100 percent of Red Cross emergency relief efforts related to the eruption of the Kilauea volcano. The people of Hawaii are very grateful to the Benioffs for the commitment they have shown to our island state.
Read more about the precious relic from the San Francisco Chronicle, below:
A 200-year-old carving of the war god Ku has returned home to Hawaii after spending untold years abroad and in the hands of private collectors.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne, purchased the rare piece at a November auction at Christie’s in Paris, paying more than $7 million for the figure, which is less than 2 feet tall.
The San Francisco couple then donated the piece to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which announced the acquisition this week.
“We felt strongly that this kii (Hawaiian for image) belonged in Hawaii for the education and benefit of its people,” Marc Benioff said.
The carving, made sometime between 1780 and 1819, had been in the collection of Claude Vérité, a Paris art dealer, who apparently acquired it in 1940. It’s unclear where the carving was before that.
Similar pieces are found only in museums, said Susan Kloman, head of African and Oceanic Art at Christie’s, in a description of the piece prior to the auction. She described the carving as “an incredible discovery.”
“When I first saw this figure I was astonished — really speechless,” she said. “We couldn’t imagine that such a work could still exist in a private collection.”
Benioff said he learned of the piece only a day before the auction, when Danny Akaka Jr., Hawaiian cultural practitioner and Bishop Museum board member, called to ask for the billionaire’s help.
The carving was probably part of a temple on the Big Island, where King Kamehameha I prayed to Ku to unify the Hawaiian islands, Benioff said. Missionaries presumably boxed it up along with other sacred Hawaiian relics and sent it to Europe.
It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to return something like this to its home, Benioff added.
“It was either going to go back into someone’s living room for another 200 years,” he said, “or it was going to go back to Hawaii and be on display for the Hawaiian people.”
Benioff, who owns an estate in Hawaii, said he had to beat out a “significant bidder,” to get the item.
“It’s a spiritual item,” he said. “It’s not really something that should be held to help the power of one person.”
The carving was returned to the islands about a month ago — the land-eater idol arriving about a week before the eruption of the Kilauea volcano — the timing of which was not lost on Benioff.
The Salesforce founder has long had a connection to Hawaii. While an executive at Oracle, he decided to take a sabbatical and rented a beach hut on the Big Island of Hawaii.
He swam with dolphins and “embraced the spirit of Aloha,” according to Saleforce’s online information.
The billionaire signs his emails, “Aloha, Marc,” and likes wearing Hawaiian shirts. His company incorporates the aloha spirit — a belief in treating others with love and respect that translates into a corporate mission that includes spending 1 percent of its profit on philanthropic endeavors.
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Corporate conference rooms have names like Maka Launa or Hala Kahiki, and the top floors of buildings, including the one on San Francisco’s new Salesforce Tower, are called the Ohana, or family, floor.
In addition to the donation of art, Benioff has committed to funding 100 percent of Red Cross emergency relief efforts related to the eruption of the Kilauea volcano.
But the billionaire businessman does not typically buy art. This was a departure from his philanthropic endeavors.
But it was “a big deal,” he said. “This is a very, very big deal.”
The kii is 20 inches tall and stands in a warrior pose. It is in the Kona style, made by carvers in that area of the largest of the Hawaiian islands during the reign of Kamehameha I, according to the Bishop Museum.
“Over the years, many of Hawaii’s cultural treasures have resided outside of Hawaii. Some have returned home, others not yet,” Akaka said in a statement this week. “Today we can celebrate the arrival of this kii to Hawaii and to the Bishop Museum where it will serve as a symbol of great cultural pride as well as a reflection of Hawaii’s spiritual past.”
The museum plans to make the carving a centerpiece in an exhibition opening in February.