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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Finally — a tribute to Sinoto

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist


Last night I had the pleasure of seeing something happen that should have taken place years ago. Better still, I got to share in the event. The Bishop Museum honored Yosi Sinoto at its annual dinner and I got to introduce him. It was an award long overdue.

Yosihiko Sinoto is an unsung hero of the museum. He's a big shot everywhere but Hawai'i. The emperor of Japan has bestowed upon him the Order of the Rising Sun for his contribution to science in the Pacific. I flew with Yosi to Tahiti, and the president of French Polynesia sent his limousine to pick him up at the airport. Customs officials whisked us off to a special waiting room while they picked up our bags.

Here, Yosi goes unrecognized. When Yosi takes a tour to the Marquesas, the mayors of villages call out the schoolchildren to greet him. He goes to Rapa Nui, where he restored the giant statues, and kupuna consult him.

All this is because Yosi Sinoto is a superb archaeologist. Also an avid fisherman and speaker of many languages. In Tahiti his nickname is "Tapone," which means "Japan" in Tahitian. He likes Hinano beer and we have consumed quite a bit of it together.

The stories about Yosi are legion.

He has no compunction about scolding Tahitians for not taking care of marae — their temples.

In the 1960s, I was strolling under coconut palms with Kenneth Emory and Yosi back to the hotel from a dig on Bora Bora when Yosi dashed off to a land crab hole. He came back with a beautiful, 500-year-old, pearl shell fishhook that a land crab had dug up. Only Yosi can spot a fishhook in a land crab hole at 20 feet. That's why he's a legend among archaeologists.

In 1964, Yosi took the old supply ship Aranue to the Marquesas from Tahiti to check out possibilities for a dig. He asked the captain to drop him off at Uahuka while the Aranue made its rounds, then pick him up on the way back. Meanwhile, Yosi walked around the island depending on Marquesan hospitality.

He found a sand dune where high waves had washed out some bones. The classic dig that followed went down through the entire cultural history of the Marquesas and became the timetable against which all other digs in Eastern Polynesia were measured.

When Yosi came to Hawai'i from Japan as a student in the 1950s, the first thing he asked at the South Point dig was "Where's the pottery?" Before carbon dating, pottery was the best way to date a site. Polynesians didn't make pottery. It was Yosi who thought of substituting fishhooks for pottery to date the strata in his digs. To sequence thousands of fishhooks, he invented a computer made out of file cards, shoeboxes and a one-hole punch.

In October, he's taking a Bishop Museum tour to Huahine where he's restoring temples. It's a great opportunity for adventure and to learn a lot.