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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 9, 2006

Hawaiians react to artifacts reports

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Published reports that cultural objects were collected by state authorities from a Big Island cave and turned over to the Bishop Museum are being met with mixed and emotional reactions by the Hawaiian community.

One faction is rooting for their return to the museum, arguing that it was wrong for the group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai'i Nei to have taken possession of the 83 sets of artifacts from the museum in 2001 and put them back in the Forbes Cave complex, also known as the Kawaihae Caves, where they were believed to have been buried more than a century ago.

"Hui Malama broke (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) laws by taking the items without the agreement of other claimants," said Nanette Napoleon, a former member of the O'ahu Island Burial Council.

But another faction argues that the explorers who first removed them from the caves and turned them over to the museum were the thieves.

"Moving them to Bishop Museum just creates a real problem culturally, spiritually and politically for the Hawaiian community," said Jon Osorio, chairman of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i- Manoa. "Those people who believe they were moepu (funerary objects) are going to be outraged and will be devoted to getting them reinterred."

U.S. District Judge David Ezra last year ordered the items retrieved after the groups Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts sued for their return.

Several published reports have stated the items have been taken back to the museum. The Advertiser has not been able to confirm the retrieval independently. Citing a gag order placed by the court, officials with the museum and other litigants declined to comment. So, too, have officials with the state attorney general's office who ostensibly took part in their retrieval and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which owns the land where they were buried.

The Royal Hawaiian Academy and the Kawananakoa group, like Hui Malama, are among the 14 claimants under NAGPRA rules who are locked in a stalemate over the fate of the items.

The items include a famous wooden female figure and several renowned stick 'aumakua.

Attorney Dexter Kaiama, who has supported Hui Malama's position, said: "If it wasn't for the initial theft (by the Forbes expedition), all of the items would have remained untouched in those caves."

But Bill Souza, the kahu po'o nui, or protocol officer, for the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, said it was Hawaiian royalty in the early part of the 20th century that asked that items be turned over to the museum "until they could find a place to house them."

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