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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Park paves way for Hawaiian groups to claim relics

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Shown here are back and front views of a wooden image from the Forbes Cave expeditions. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park will consider claims for five Forbes items it wants to return to Native Hawaiians.

Bishop Museum photo

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Five cultural items that were once part of the Forbes Cave collection have been designated "unassociated funerary items" by Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, paving the way for Native Hawaiian organizations to determine what to do with them.

The items belong to the same collection as 83 cultural objects that have been at the center of a long-standing dispute between Bishop Museum and several Native Hawaiian groups.

The five items housed at the park are a carved wooden female figure, believed to be a representation of the deity Kiha Wahine; a carved wooden game board; a cutting tool with a shark-tooth attachment; a water gourd; and a wrist ornament made of rock oyster.

"We have determined these items belong to the Native Hawaiian people," said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. "Now it's up to the Native Hawaiian people to determine the disposition of these items."

The objects were donated to the park in 1956 by Blodwin Forbes Edmondson, daughter of David Forbes, who headed the 1905 expedition into a Kawaihae lava tube cave. Other items were sold to Bishop Museum.

Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, certain Native American and Native Hawaiian cultural items must be turned over to lineal descendants or culturally affiliated Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations.

The items were determined to be funerary because they were found with human remains, Orlando said. They are designated "unassociated," however, because the human remains themselves are not in the park's possession.

Orlando said her staff spoke to at least 14 groups over the past five years in trying to determining the status of the items.

"The next step in the process is to consider claims for the items we have in our collection," Orlando said. After meeting with NAGPRA officials next week, "we'll probably invite the potential claimants back in for another consultation and invite them to submit evidence of their claims for these items."

So far, there have been 14 potential claimants, Orlando said. But NAGPRA law allows for new claimants until items are repatriated.

Some of the key organizations involved in the Bishop Museum dispute have also been among those talking to park staff about the items there.

In the Bishop Museum case, there were 14 claimants. Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai'i Nei, a group dedicated to repatriating human remains and the funerary items buried with them, were "loaned" the items by the museum.

When the museum asked for the items back, Hui Malama officials said the items were taken back to Forbes Cave and that they considered the items repatriated.

Two other groups, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, have sued the museum and Hui Malama for their return to the museum. The issue is before the U.S. District Court.

Hui Malama and the Royal Hawaiian Academy are among the groups vying for a say in what happens to the items at Volcanoes.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, Hui Malama executive director, said his group believed that the items should be designated as unassociated funerary objects.

Other groups lobbied for the items to be designated associated funerary or cultural patrimony, or community-owned, Orlando said.

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

Correction: The Forbes Cave items have not been released. To date, 14 Native Hawaiian organizations and individuals have come forward as potential claimants for the items from the Forbes Cave. Ayau said his group believes the items should be designated as unassociated funerary objects. The headline and information in a previous version of this story were incorrect.