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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Group defies artifacts order

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ulumauahi Keali'ikanaka'oleohaililani of Hilo, left, his mother, Kekuhi, and Edward Halealoha Ayau prayed before yesterday's Hui Malama hearing. Ayau later turned himself in for contempt of court after refusing to reveal the location of artifacts his group had borrowed.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Junior Leong, 18, attended federal court with members of his Halau Lokahi public charter school class to get a firsthand view of the artifacts repatriation issue, something they had been studying in class.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Adelaide "Frenchy" DeSoto is consoled by Mahealani Kamau'u outside Federal Court after making an impassioned defense of Hui Malama.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Recent events in the case of Native Hawaiian artifacts:

August: Two Native Hawaiian groups, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, sue the Bishop Museum and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei, seeking return of artifacts Hui Malama borrowed from the museum then buried in Big Island caves. At least 13 groups are seeking possession of the artifacts, which range from carved wooden statuettes of family gods, or 'aumakua, to tools and pieces of feather capes.

Sept. 2: Federal District Judge David Ezra orders the return of the artifacts to the museum so discussions among the claimants can continue.

Sept. 5: Ezra sets a Sept. 23 deadline for return of the artifacts. Ezra questions whether federal law governing the disposition of cultural objects was violated when Hui Malama received and subsequently declined to return the items.

Sept. 20: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifts the court order directing retrieval of the artifacts, ruling they may remain in the caves while Hui Malama appeals Ezra’s injunction.

Dec. 12: The appeals court affirms Ezra’s September injunction calling for the return of the artifacts.

Dec. 20: Ezra sets a Dec. 21 deadline for Hui Malama to pinpoint where each artifact is buried. The judge agrees to a request that Hui Malama members may refrain from actively participating in the removal of artifacts. The group must, however, pay for half the costs of removal while the Bishop Museum covers the rest. And the judge grants a request to keep the exact location under a court seal. The parties are directed by Dec. 28 to submit a list of three engineers who could survey the structural integrity of the caves and offer risk assessment.

Dec. 22: Ezra orders Hui Malama’s executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau and board of directors to appear before him Dec. 27 to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with the terms of the Dec. 21 deadline.

Dec. 27: Hui Malama’s Ayau is ordered into federal custody until the exact whereabouts of the cultural artifacts are revealed.

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William Aila

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The leader of a Native Hawaiian organization yesterday was ordered jailed by U.S. District Judge David Ezra until the precise whereabouts of 83 priceless cultural artifacts are disclosed or the items are recovered.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, executive director of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei and other Hui Malama officials have said the items are buried in caves in Honokoa Gulch on the Kohala side of the Big Island. They maintain that providing specifics would violate their Native Hawaiian religious beliefs.

In a packed and emotionally charged courtroom, Ayau was found by Ezra to be in contempt of court and ordered incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu International Airport until he discloses the objects' locations, someone else discloses the locations or the objects are located and taken back to Bishop Museum.

Hui Malama borrowed the objects from the museum in 2000 and never returned them. The group said the items, known as the Forbes Cave collection, have been placed in the vicinity of where they were taken by Westerners in 1905.

Two other Native Hawaiian organizations, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, sued the museum and Hui Malama to force their return. Hui Malama officials have refused and said it would be sacrilegious to return them or participate in their removal.

William Aila, a Hui Malama board member, predicted that Ayau's imprisonment will spur supporters to express their unhappiness with the action and thereby prove that they represent the views of a majority of Native Hawaiians.

"What you will see in the upcoming days is more Hawaiian groups coming out in support of Hui Malama and the cultural position that you're not supposed to disturb iwi kupuna (bones) and their moepu (burial artifacts)," Aila said.

Aila is one of three Hui Malama board members Ezra said also are in contempt. The judge said he would deal with their cases later, noting that it was Ayau who was Hui Malama's leader and clearly had the most knowledge about the objects' whereabouts. The others are Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele and Antoinette Freitas.

Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., president of the organization, also had been ordered to appear yesterday but was in the hospital with a heart ailment and unable to attend the proceeding.

Aila noted that more than 200 Hui Malama supporters, led by the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition and faculty from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Center for Hawaiian Studies, gathered at the steps of the Federal Building yesterday and packed Ezra's courtroom.

"The judge, in his decision, is going to cause Hawaiians to come to grips with their cultural responsibilities," Aila said.

Hui Malama leaders are talking about possible vigils and demonstrations but definitive plans have not been set, he said.

Maxwell, from his bed at Maui Hospital, called yesterday "a black day for the Native Hawaiian people."

Sherry Broder, an attorney for Hui Malama opponents, said she was disappointed that Ayau and his group did not do as the judge had asked. "We're quite worried," she said, noting that recent admissions by Hui Malama about the artifacts going into two caves, rather than one as originally believed, and the possibility that one of the caves was not sealed securely, troubles her clients.

Ezra said yesterday — and during a hearing last week — that he was trying to be sensitive to Hui Malama's religious convictions and stated he was a longtime student of Hawaiian culture.

Maxwell called Ezra's claims "ridiculous."

"How can a haole judge who has not worked with us, who does not know the spiritual and cultural things, throw a comment like that," he said. "That is totally uncalled for."

But Cy Kamuela Harris, a member of the Kekumano 'Ohana which is also a claimant to the objects, said Hui Malama officials are wrong in proclaiming their views are right while dismissing those of others.

"Not all knowledge comes from one school," Harris said.

Harris, a follower of the Temple of Lono, said his cultural and religious teachers have taught him that the objects are artifacts that should be displayed publicly and not sealed in a cave.

Harris said it was Hui Malama's leaders who came up with the notion of repatriation of artifacts. "They're making it all up as they go along," he said.

Harris' views echoed those of Ezra's, who said at one point that Hui Malama "does not have a corner on the Native Hawaiian religion."

The emotions in Ezra's courtroom were so charged that at one point, Kanahele stood up from where she sat in the audience, said to those nearby, "I'm not going to sit and listen to this crap," and began to walk out of the gallery.

When others began to follow her, Ezra said he was almost finished and asked that the audience wait until he was done. When about 50 people continued toward the exit, he told the approximately 20 federal marshals and state sheriffs to clear the courtroom of all present except members of the media and parties to the lawsuit.

A man from the audience then shouted something in Hawaiian and Ezra immediately asked that he be detained and held in contempt. The man, identified by Hui Malama supporters as Kihei Nahale'a of the Big Island, was later sentenced by Ezra to five days in jail.

Ayau, in a black dress shirt, black pants and black shoes, repeatedly turned his chair sideways and looked away from Ezra as he spoke. He did, however, look at the judge when spoken to directly.

Asked by Ezra if he was ready to go to jail, Ayau said: "I would be honored."

Ezra repeatedly said that he empathized with the views of Hui Malama's members but that their lack of cooperation with what now amounted to the wishes of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left him no choice.

"Your clients are deserving of their religious beliefs but no more so than the religious beliefs of others," Ezra told Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Hui Malama.

Ezra said he is ordering U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang to assist him as a designated court master, although it was unclear at the end of yesterday exactly what his duties will be.

Ayau was escorted out of the courtroom without handcuffs.

Outside the courtroom, Hui Malama supporters continued to chant and pray.

But at least one person in the crowd was opposed to Hui Malama's views and believes there are many others like her.

Nanette Napoleon of Kailua said it is "just plain silly" for Hui Malama supporters to suggest there is only one interpretation of what constitutes the Native Hawaiian religion.

"They set these rigid, unyielding, dogmatic rules that they expect everybody else in the Hawaiian community to follow," she said. "And they have absolutely no tolerance for any other point of view and to me that is so un-Hawaiian and so un-pono it makes my heart break."

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

Correction: The Forbes Cave is in Honokoa Gulch on the Big Island. The name of the gulch was incorrect in a previous version of this story.