Alejandro “Alika” Tejada, 62, was cooking shoyu chicken for his wife in his Hilo kitchen when he suffered a stroke. Tejada wanted to enjoy his dinner before driving to Hilo Medical Center — but his wife convinced him to step away from the stove and get in the car.
As a CT technician prepared Tejada for a diagnostic scan, Tejada said she asked his wife to help her in removing his earrings — but prevented her from taking off his whale tooth necklace. A lawsuit alleges that the technician wanted to remove the necklace herself.
Tejada, whose face was drooping, and his wife protested that the necklace held great spiritual and cultural value and should not be touched by a stranger. But, according to Tejada the technician replied, “My room, my rules. Do you want him to die?” The technician then proceeded to remove the necklace from Tejada’s neck before wheeling him into the imaging room, according to Tejada’s statement in the lawsuit.
When Tejada emerged from a series of diagnostic tests, his necklace, a family heirloom that he said was passed down since the days of Kamehameha, was gone.
Tejada, a retired chef and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, filed a lawsuit claiming that Hilo Medical Center is at fault for negligence in the disappearance of Tejada’s jewelry last September.
Tejada said he had never before taken off the missing whale tooth necklace, which was passed down to him about 25 years ago by family members,
The lawsuit values the necklace at $100,000, although in a phone interview Tejada said it’s priceless and irreplaceable. He said he believes it’s gone — either lost or stolen — and he’s trying to make peace with the idea that he won’t get it back.
“I’m not fighting for the necklace itself,” said Tejada, who is seeking compensatory damages and a jury trial. “I’m fighting for what it represents — my lineage, all my ancestors. They didn’t misplace a necklace, they misplaced a legacy. That’s how I see it.”
Citing federal and state privacy laws, Hilo Medical Center declined to comment.
“They didn’t misplace a necklace, they misplaced a legacy. That’s how I see it.” — Alejandro “Alika” Tejada
The value of the loss transcends money. Strung with traditional Hawaiian cordage, the ivory amulet was entrusted to him, he said, by his family about 25 years ago specifically because of his accomplishments as a Hawaiian martial artist. To Tejada, the necklace is a talisman that has assisted in his spiritual well-being.
According to the family history passed down to him, Tejada says the necklace features a tooth from a baby sperm whale one of his ancestors harvested for food several hundred years ago. The tooth is encrusted with a small jade stone from New Zealand, which Tejada says was obtained by an ancestor who traveled there by canoe to battle the Maori people.
Alika Tejada, seated with his grandchild, wears his whale tooth necklace.
The necklace has a name: Kuha’o. It originally served to honor a man who Tejada’s ancestor killed in war, according to Tejada.
Until his CT scan, Tejada said he had never taken off the necklace, a sacred relic which he had planned someday to hand down to his grandson.
Hawaii law prohibits the sale, purchase, trade, barter or possession with intent to sell of whale teeth, along with all parts of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Although Tejada’s ownership of the whale tooth does not breach the law, it would be illegal for him to seek to acquire a new one.
Ever since the necklace was lost or stolen, Tejada said he feels weak without it, as if he has lost his mana, or power, and upset the spirits of his ancestors. He also claims to have suffered from anxiety, sleeplessness and family strife.
Family members who endowed Tejada with the necklace have shunned him because he let a non-Hawaiian remove it from him, according to the lawsuit.
The suit said Hilo Medical Center has declined to give him the name of the CT technician who handled his necklace. The suit also alleges that a claims administrator with the medical center’s Department of Accounting and General Services indicated in writing that Tejada and his wife were lying and still had possession of the necklace.
“Mr. Tejada feels violated to the point where HMC no longer is a healing place for him and he has delayed receiving further medical treatment from HMC for fear of additional mistreatment,” the lawsuit states.
Tejada said he has suffered from a series of small strokes in recent months but has not sought medical attention because he doesn’t feel comfortable as an Hawaiian at his local medical center.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Will you help us?
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, investigative journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?