he was offered
artifacts for sale
An antiques store that was later
searched secretly showed items
A collector of Hawaiian artifacts said yesterday that he was secretly shown three rare hand-carved bowls, some burial kapa and a gourd container in a Big Island antique store several weeks ago.
"They wanted a lot of money," said the collector, who spoke to the Star-Bulletin on the condition of anonymity.
The collector has helped agents with the U.S. Department of the Interior who are investigating how valuable Hawaiian artifacts turned up on the black market after being repatriated to a native Hawaiian organization that was to place the items in sacred burial caves.
On Tuesday, Interior agents with search warrants scoured the Kona antiques store and the home of the store's owner.
"We executed search warrants on the Big Island, and the investigation is continuing," said Marc Tinsley, a special agent with the Interior Department in Sacramento, Calif.
Several sources close to the investigation said the agents seized several artifacts from the J.S. Emerson collection that were being offered for sale illegally.
A second collector, who was asked to appraise the items, was paid for his expertise in pieces of burial kapa, sources told the Star-Bulletin.
The first collector said he immediately recognized the items he was shown at the Kona antiques store as pieces that belonged to the Emerson collection. Some items still had their museum identification numbers.
"I saw them and reported them," said the collector.
In 1858, Joseph Emerson found the pieces in Kanupa Cave, a burial cave for lesser chiefs on the Big Island. In the late 1880s, he sold some pieces to the Bishop Museum. He sold others in 1907 to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
According to the Federal Register and sources close to the investigation, the items from the Bishop Museum were repatriated in 1997 to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei ("group caring for the ancestors of Hawaii"). The other items were repatriated in 2003 from the Peabody to Hui Malama, according to the Federal Register.
Hui Malama is a native Hawaiian organization founded in 1989 for the purpose of repatriating human remains and other artifacts and re-entering them in burial caves in accordance with the wishes of ancestors.
Under the 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, it is illegal to sell or traffic repatriated artifacts.
Sources close to the investigation have identified several suspects, but no arrests have been made.
Edward Halealoha Ayau, a spokesman for Hui Malama, did not return numerous telephone calls from the Star-Bulletin this week.
The collector said: "I want to know how those objects got out of the cave, if they ever were there in the first place. And then I want to know how they got to the antique dealer."
The Bishop Museum released a statement yesterday that said: "The Bishop Museum strongly condemns any effort to sell or trade historic Hawaiian artifacts on the black market. Such actions not only violate federal law, they violate the trust of native Hawaiians and all people who appreciate and understand the importance of the proper handling and disposition of these cultural treasures."