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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Museum claims 1 of 3 artifacts

Associated Press

Bishop Museum acknowledges that it is not the rightful owner of two Hawaiian artifacts found on Moloka'i, but it is claiming ownership of a third item, a Moloka'i stick-figure image that some believed has spiritual powers.

The museum informed several native Hawaiian organizations in a letter today that a pendant and a cowrie shell found on Mo'omomi Beach do not belong to the museum under the terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. But it claims ownership of an eight-inch wooden stick figure known as ki'i.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, spokesman for Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, one of four groups that have staked a claim to the three items, disagrees. He said the museum doesn't own the stick figure under the terms of federal law.

The museum asked the four claimants to submit documentation demonstrating the closeness of their ties or "cultural affiliation" with the cowrie shell and pendant.

The two items were found in an area believed to be sacred burial sands and were later donated to the museum. Hui Malama claims that the people who found such objects were grave robbers and that the museum does not have rightful ownership to stolen goods.

The museum's letter said that in the case of the ki'i, it "asserts a right of possession as a good faith purchaser for value from a 'native.' There is no evidence to indicate that the native was a thief."

The ki'i, according to museum records, was purchased by the museum from C.M. Hyde, who bought it from a native Hawaiian on Moloka'i who allegedly found it wrapped in burial kapa.

But Ayau claims that the native Hawaiian found the ki'i and did not have family or other ownership ties and therefore was not authorized to sell it.

Other claimants include Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, a group that includes Abigail Kawananakoa, a Campbell Estate heiress; and La'akea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts. The museum declined to identify the fourth claimant.