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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 8, 2003

EBay sale of artifact from Kaho'olawe called illegal

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

The online auction of a Hawaiian artifact from Kaho'olawe has the state's historical preservation and cultural community in an uproar.

The object is an 'ulu maika, a Hawaiian bowling stone, which the unidentified seller advertised as coming from Kaho'olawe. It was placed for sale on eBay and received three bids by yesterday's deadline, selling for $305.

It was one of three 'ulu maika on eBay yesterday, but the only one whose origin could place the transaction in violation of state and federal law, because the stone is a historical object taken from government land.

"The idea that anything you can take, you can sell, is just disgusting," said Jon Osorio, associate professor with the University of Hawai'i Center for Hawaiian Studies. "Everything possible needs to stay on Kaho'olawe because there has been so much destruction. The law in this particular case is there for the right reasons."

Navy officials have informed the buyer and seller via e-mail they may be in violation of federal law. A state historic preservation official said the sale may also be a violation of state law.

Attempts to contact the buyer and seller via e-mail were unsuccessful.

Kaho'olawe has been under direct government control since 1941, before which it was leased for ranching. The Navy began using it as a bombing target in 1941, and turned it over to state control in 1994. Since then, it has been managed jointly by the Navy, which has been clearing unexploded ordnance, and the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission.

"Anytime artifacts are taken from any site, it's wrong, and the theft of these kinds of artifacts goes against the whole reason why the Kaho'olawe reserve was created," said Stanton Enomoto, acting director of the commission. "It robs future generations of the opportunity to make that connection with how their ancestors lived."

According to the eBay listing, the seller, a Big Island resident, was given the stone 12 years ago. Archaeologist Alan Carpenter with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said that it appears authentic from the photographs on the Web site.

"I've been wondering when something like this was going to come forward," Carpenter said. "It's probably illegal, depending on when it was collected."

From the perspective of historic preservation, Carpenter said, archaeological items need to be kept with others nearby to help researchers reconstruct how earlier people lived and what tools they used.

"Every time a piece gets pulled out of the ground, you lose all that context and information," he said.

Archaeologist Sara Collins with the state Office of Historic Preservation said there is little doubt the 'ulu maika was taken improperly.

"It is a theft of a historic item, although I suppose it is possible its collection dates back to the 1930s (before the island was in direct government control and before historic preservation laws were in place)," she said. "The law doesn't distinguish between an 'ulu maika, a bottle or a heiau. There is a $10,000 fine per count."

'Ulu maika stones, similar in shape and size to a can of tuna, were made primarily from basalt and occasionally from coral. The stone was rolled between two pegs in games of accuracy and distance.

They are fairly common artifacts, suggesting it was a popular sport. Early references say the outcome of 'ulu maika tournaments was often the subject of betting.

The Navy has warned buyer and seller that the sale violates the Archaeological Resources and Protection Act, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell.

It also appears to violate eBay's rule against selling artifacts taken from battlefields and public or Native American lands.

Enomoto said he had discussed the case with the state attorney general's office.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.