Island History for Friday, June 24, 2011

In 1931, the Big Island’s Kahua Ranch cofounder and Hawaiian artifact collector Ronald von Holt (1898-1953) led an expedition by sampan into Nualolo Valley on Kaua‘i’s Na Pali Coast for the purpose of discovering ancient burial caves and commandeering their treasures.

With him were fellow Kahua Ranch cofounder Atherton Richards and others, but when a burial cave was located that contained an idol, many spears, calabashes and stone implements of great value, only von Holt and Richards entered.

Later, it was rumored that both men had been cursed for entering the cave.

Richards, on the one hand, always scoffed at the idea of being cursed, despite being stricken for 20 years from a progressive condition of palsy before dying of a heart attack at age 79 in 1974.

On the other had, von Holt was convinced he was cursed. From the time of the Nualolo expedition, which occurred when he was 33, until his unexpected death after a brief illness at age 55, he was the victim of many mishaps, including the crippling accident that brought about the illness that caused his death.

However, the worst effect of the Nualolo curse von Holt experienced was not one of his many accidents, but was, instead, the torment he suffered at being unable to discover the site of a “disappearing cave” on the slopes of Kahua Ranch that was said by von Holt’s Hawaiian paniolos to change its location and which was thought to contain great treasure.

Regardless, von Holt, whose mother, Ida, was a daughter of Kaua‘i konohiki Valdemar Knudsen (1820-1898), continued to enter other burial caves and remove artifacts for many years after Nualolo. At the time of his death, his Kahua Ranch Hawaiiana collection was, outside of Bishop Museum’s, one of the largest.

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