Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hawaiian group to disobey judge

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Leaders of the Native Hawaiian group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei said yesterday they stand ready to face jail or other punishment by not complying with a federal court order that demands they disclose the exact whereabouts of 83 priceless cultural objects.

Upholding the convictions and beliefs passed on to them is their foremost priority, they said.

"I'm ready, my family's ready," said Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., president of Hui Malama. "They're not happy, but they know I gotta do this and they support me."

The group borrowed the items from the Bishop Museum in 2000 but never returned them. Instead, they said, the items have been placed in two Big Island caves at or near where they were taken by a Western archaeologist in 1905.

Two other Native Hawaiian groups sued Hui Malama and the museum for the return of the objects.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra on Tuesday set a deadline of 4 p.m. yesterday for the organization to provide the exact locations of the items and the names of all individuals who knew of the locations. Four Hui Malama board members, including Maxwell and its executive director, responded by filing declarations stating that they are declining to comply with the demands despite a threat of contempt of court, which could bring Hui Malama members jail time, fines or both.

Maxwell said that if asked by the court, "I will present myself to be arrested."

"I'm going to be 68 next year. I'm not healthy," he said. "But my conviction to my culture is strong and it's inbred from when I was a little boy. If that is breaking the law, then I will have to break it every day to protect my culture."

Hui Malama executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau, in his declaration, said that Hui Malama board members on Tuesday voted to "not disclose the names of those who took part in the reinterment of iwi kupuna and moepu and the precise location of each of the moepu within each of the two Kawaihae burial caves."

The purpose of such disclosure would lead to their removal, the statement said, "and would be contrary to our religious/cultural beliefs relating to the care of the ancestral dead and their possessions, as protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Removal of the items would result in kaumaha, or "spiritual heaviness," for Hui Malama members and "anger from the kupuna," the declaration said.

From Hui Malama's standpoint, the statement said, "the pending District Court order amounts to stealing from the dead, an action that threatens severe spiritual consequences for anyone involved."

The statement recounts the removal of items from a burial cave in Kealakekua "and the lives that were taken of a result of that disturbance," including that of Prince Edward Albert and King Kamehameha IV himself.

"I firmly believe disclosure of the information called for by the order would endanger our well-being in a similar fashion," the declaration said.

Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said it would be wrong to characterize Hui Malama's non-compliance as defiance.

"They're clearly not trying to thumb their noses at Judge Ezra," he said. "I think they are just people who are caught in a bind that is between their religious convictions and what Judge Ezra wants them to reveal."

Besides the declarations by Maxwell, Ayau, William Aila, Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele and Antoinette Freitas, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. yesterday submitted, under seal, a listing of the items handed to them by Bishop Museum at the time of the loan, Murakami said. That list presumably shows where each of items came from and under what circumstances.

Hui Malama has also submitted the Geographic Positioning System coordinates to the Forbes Cave entrance.

A spokesperson for Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts said the two groups had no comment regarding yesterday's submittals.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.