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THE OLD QUEEN'S TREASURE
By Michael A. Herr
Published by Lulu.com, 2007 ($14.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
In 1422, indigenous inhabitants of the area that would become known as the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii spot a very strange vessel coming into Kealakekua Bay. It is much larger than their vessels, with oddly shaped sails. The men assemble with their weapons, waiting to see if the people rowing to shore are friend or foe. The women are sent to gather food and water, and soon all is ready for either battle or feast.
The strangers, dressed in silk robes, their hair in long braids, are like no one the Hawaiians have ever seen. Their language is incomprehensible, but they manage to make their mission clear. They need to replenish their food and water supply, rest for a bit, and then be on their way. Tragedy strikes when one of the visitors dies, and the Hawaiians allow the Chinese to bury the man in the special tomb of one of their leaders, deep within a series of natural tunnels in the lava. With him is left his knife and a Ming Dynasty blue and white platter.
In 2006, natural forces cause a minor earthquake, and a shift in the lava field makes the secret burial chamber once more accessible to explorers. Two natives who enter the tunnel system to rebury the iwi, the bones of their ancestors, as part of a sacred trust, find the chamber, full of priceless possessions of the long-dead king. One of the men insists they leave the tomb untouched and keep it secret; the other agrees, but secretly adds up the value of the artifacts and decides to take advantage of this windfall. Only one of the men leaves the lava field alive. Soon, ancient spears, a canoe, and other valuable items, including a blue and white Ming Dynasty platter, show up in the shop of an antiques dealer who asks no questions other than "what else can you bring me?"
Back at the Pono family homestead, we catch up on what's been going on in their lives. Teri, now a widow, has accepted her role as the next keeper of the Old Queen's bones, and she and her mother Haunani are taking classes in lua, ancient Hawaiian warfare techniques. Haunani tells Teri she may one day need to know how to physically protect the secret of Queen Ka'ahumanu's resting place. The leader of the class is Koakane, a vocal activist for the return of Hawaiian lands to native Hawaiians and for the proper respect of their remains, their iwi. On occasion, when he needs money, he takes part in the dancing at the Pono Family Hale luaus, but it goes against his grain to perform for tourists.
While preparing land for a new golf course at the Queen's Beach Resort Hotel, managed by Lori, another of Haunani's daughters, human remains have been found. According to government regulations, the work must stop until a proper archeological examination of the site is performed. If the remains are native Hawaiians, they are to be given a traditional burial. Because of local pressure, a team from Stanford University is hired to do the job. Professor Simon Thompson, a vain and snarky archeologist, is to head the team. Hwang Tam, a visiting scholar from Beijing, who'd spent the past year trying to find evidence to support his theory that the Chinese had reached the New World before Columbus, and Thompson's graduate student Felicia, Jeremy Pono's fiancée are the other members. Because of Felicia's relationship to the Pono family, she is able to find lodging for them with her future grandmother-in-law, Huanani, and future mother-in-law Teri. It's a bit daunting for Felicia, who's only met them once, but they greet her with hospitality and kindness.
While this book, the third in the Kohala Coast Thriller series, had the potential to be the most interesting of the three, there are a few of problems. One is that a passage on page 141 of THE OLD QUEEN'S TREASURE describing the importance of Queen Ka'ahumanu in Hawaiian history is identical to a passage on page 55 of THE OLD QUEEN'S MURDER. While an author can't plagiarize himself, he should find some other way to convey the information from book to book.
The second problem I have is the treatment of the archeological excavation. Even for a "rescue" project such as this one, proper excavation procedures must be followed, and what the Stanford team did in no way resembled a scientific excavation. Also, since the artifacts being removed are primarily human bones, there should have been a physical anthropologist or other expert in human remains on the dig. I also find it improbable that an institution like Stanford would hire a professor as sleazy, sloppy, and unethical as Dr. Thompson, but I suppose that could happen.
At the end of the book the author includes the first few pages of the next book in the series, THE OLD QUEEN'S SECRET. Felicia has decided to stay and finish the excavation. Perhaps someone pointed out the problems with the description of the excavation, as there is mention of her carrying some standard archeological tools with her, but her procedures are still not right. I know these things because I have a degree in anthropology, but anyone with a basic knowledge of archeology could spot the same errors I did. The author needs to "bone up" on archeology. As for his spelling of archeology without the "a," as readers are most used to seeing it, he is in fact correct. American anthropological archeologists often do spell it that way, while European archaeologists do not.
Despite the problems, this is an interesting series. Hawaii is an exotic place of great beauty and fascinating history. Hwang Tam's theory about early Chinese contact in the New World is a hotly debated issue, with experts on both sides looking to prove their point. It is obvious Mr. Herr cares deeply about Hawaii and Hawaiian history and culture. With some judicious editing and deeper research, this series could turn out to be a winner.
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