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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 8, 2006

Major shift in resolving dispute over artifacts

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

What would be the right word to describe this new turn in the story?




Many have said that the dispute over the artifacts taken from burial caves in Kawaihae should not be settled in federal court. In a stunning development, Judge David Ezra essentially agreed when he encouraged the opposing parties in the lawsuit to turn to a traditional Hawaiian practice for dispute resolution, ho'oponopono.

"The whole idea is to take the matter out of the courtroom and into the hands of Hawaiians," Ezra said.

If the parties agree to the formal and extended Hawaiian ritual of "making things right," the federal court would still proceed with the case in a parallel manner.

Still, the outcome of ho'oponopono is considered binding to all parties. It's not over till it's over, no matter how long it takes. Everyone has to sign on to the agreement.

In opening the door to this culturally appropriate means of dispute resolution, Judge Ezra demonstrated a considerable amount of respect for the Hawaiian culture, sensitivity to the unique nature of this dispute, and a faith in the parties involved that they would have the courage and strength to go through such a rigorous process.

No one ever said ho'oponopono was easy.

Federal court, with its wood-paneled formality and adversarial nature, operates on an almost detached level. Ho'oponopono is much more visceral and holistic.

In the revered text "Nana i Ke Kumu: Look to the Source," first published by the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center in 1972, Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui described ho'oponopono this way:

"The specific family conference in which relationships were 'set right' through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance and mutual restitution and forgiveness ... we forgave and were forgiven, thrashing out every grudge, peeve or resentment among us."


Respected kupuna and attorney Beadie Kanahele Dawson has lectured on ho'oponopono. In a 2001 luncheon speech for the state judiciary, Dawson explained how the process, mediated by an unbiased leader, gets to the heart of complicated, highly emotional matters through the concepts of truth, forgiveness and absolution.

Dawson described 'oia 'i'o, absolute truth. In ho'oponopono, the concept of truth is fixed, without shades of gray.

Total and mutual forgiveness is a requirement of ho'oponopono, Dawson said. The goal is not just resolution, but healing. Not only fixing the problem, but letting it go.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of ho'oponopono is that only the involved parties take part. It is not for bystanders or commentators. (I realize that sounds hypocritical in a newspaper column, but there are so many aspects of this case that aren't anybody's business but the descendants of those buried in those caves.)

Whether all parties agree to ho'oponopono remains to be seen. It will take a great deal of fortitude to commit to that action, the right thing and the hard thing at the same time.

As Pukui wrote:

"To bring about a true 'righting of wrongs,' certain attitudes were required. Some concerned the very decision to hold the ho'oponopono. For this decision rested on the basic belief that problems could be resolved definitely if they were approached properly. They must be approached with a true intention to correct wrongs. Confessions of error must be full and honest. Nothing could be withheld. Prayers, contrition and the forgiving-freeing kala must come from the heart. Without these, ho'oponopono was form without substance."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.