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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 13, 2006

One of the central issues is what constituted a 'loan'

 •  Dispute delivers praise and scorn to Hui Malama

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Opposing sides in the Forbes Collection repatriation dispute disagree on some fundamental points. Here's a guide to various elements in the case:

Who sued whom and why?

Two Hawaiian groups, the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, sued Bishop Museum and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei. The two groups that sued are seeking the return of 83 objects known as the Forbes Collection that were "loaned" by the museum to Hui Malama. The lawsuit plaintiffs say all claimants to the items need to have a say in repatriation.

Where did the items come from?

They were taken from up to four Big Island caves in 1905 during an expedition led by David Forbes, William Wagner and Frederich Haenisch and subsequently sold to Bishop Museum.

Are they artifacts or funerary objects?

Hui Malama calls the objects funerary and opposes the term "artifacts," noting that the word connotes archaeological or historical interest.

Others believe that the objects may have religious significance. They note that in the period after Kamehameha the Great's death in 1819, Queen Ka'ahumanu converted to Christianity and put a kapu on Hawaiian religious practices and many religious items were hidden for safekeeping.

Was there a loan in 2000 by the museum to Hui Malama?

The shipping invoice accompanying the objects when the Bishop Museum released the objects includes a "loan due date" of Feb. 26, 2001, exactly one year from the date of shipment. But the due date also includes an asterisk referring to "loan pending completion of repatriation." That notation, Hui Malama says, proves that the museum never anticipated return of the items and that "loan" is simply jargon used by museums to indicate a transfer.

The group also points to a shipping invoice for bones from the Kawaihae Caves that were "loaned" to Hui Malama with a one-year due date; the group notes that the museum never asked for those back. Those human remains, or iwi, were reburied by Hui Malama.

The museum argues that the loan of the objects did not transfer title to Hui Malama and that they could be recalled at any time. Additionally, the museum notes that human remains loaned to Hui Malama in 1998 came with a written agreement of all claimants and the loan was closed by the museum after a public statement was made.

What is a claimant and how many are there?

Claimants, as defined by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the federal law commonly known as NAGPRA, are "lineal descendants, Indian tribes, Native Alaskan villages and corporations, and Native Hawaiian organizations." Native Hawaiian organizations are "organizations that serve Native Hawaiians." Originally there were four Hui Malama, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawai'i Island Burial Council. That list grew to 13 in 2000 after Hui Malama took possession of the items. Last summer, the museum added Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa. Hui Malama and its supporters challenged that group's claimant status, pointing out that notice of the change has not been published in the federal register.

How is repatriation different from reburial?

Repatriation is the formal NAGPRA term for the transfer of ownership back to a native claimant or claimants. But NAGPRA is not concerned about the final location of the objects or remains.

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