for artifact release
The museum's director says itBy Burl Burlingame
was a mistake to loan the rare pieces
to one of the four groups that are
recognized as potential custodians
Bishop Museum officials formally apologized yesterday for their role in surrendering rare Hawaiian artifacts to individuals claiming to represent other Hawaiian groups.
"This public apology is a good first step for the museum regaining its credibility. But this is far from over," said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairman Clayton Hee. OHA is one of the four claimant groups recognized as potential custodians of the artifacts.
The "Forbes Cave" items have since disappeared, likely reburied in the Kaiwaihae area of the Big Island where they were first discovered. The artifacts were taken by Edward Ayau, representing claimant group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawaii Nei. Other recognized claimant groups include the Big Island Burial Council and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
"There is no doubt that Bishop Museum was mistaken in our decision to make the loan without written confirmation, and to Hui Malama," museum director W. Donald Duckworth read from a prepared statement. "That decision caused great consternation, both within the museum and without, and for that I -- and we -- apologize. But I know the decision was made in good faith that we were acting on solid information, and with the sense that it was the right thing to do."
The apology followed a Monday night meeting between the claimant groups and Bishop Museum officials. Although no agreement was reached, Hee said he was pleasantly surprised by the cordial conduct of the session.
"It was very productive and civil; no name-calling or sarcasm, things I've experienced at some other meetings," said Hee.
Hee said he asked several pointed questions aimed at making the repatriation process more inclusive of Hawaiian citizens. He also said that at least two more groups are filing claims under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act process, which gives 30 days from publication in the Federal Register for others to come forward.
Deadline for claimants of the Forbes Cave artifacts is May 5. Already registered as an additional claimant is Na Papa Kanaka O Pu'ukohola Heaiu, represented by Mel Kalahiki of the Big Island.
"The caves are just down the road from the heiau, so we think the artifacts come from ancestors in this area," said Kalahiki, who tried -- and failed -- to be recognized as a descendant of the Hawaiians buried in the caves. Kalahiki or other members of Na Papa were not invited to the Monday night meeting.
Also present at the meeting was Kenneth Brown, chairman of collections for Bishop Museum's board of directors, who said the apology was warranted because, "in retrospect, we should have realized that we were dealing with more than one claimant. We thought it was cut and dried ... I guess we were naive or something.
"This is just the sort of thing that happens when Western law butts heads with Pacific spiritual issues. No matter what you do, someone will be huhu and the museum is caught in the middle. The real question is -- what's the moral thing to do?"
Queried about disciplinary action against museum employees who questioned the museum's relationship with Hui Malama, Duckworth said Bishop Museum is "an organization of rules and policies and procedures. The museum must speak with one voice. Problems have happened -- and will continue to pop up down the road."