Sunday, December 5, 2004


Kawananakoa supports
preservation of artifacts

The Campbell heiress
and alii descendant promises
a fight over reburied objects

Sides are being taken in the increasingly bitter dispute among native Hawaiians over control of sacred artifacts, once held in the collection of the Bishop Museum, that were reinterred in a Big Island burial cave in 2002.

"It's horrifying to know that the 83 items were just packed up in secret, behind closed doors, and just handed over."

Abigail Kawananakoa
Campbell Estate heiress

Yesterday, Abigail Kawananakoa, 78, a Campbell Estate heiress who traces her lineage back to King Kalakaua, threw her support and wealth behind Laakea Suganuma in his long-standing fight with Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei, the organization that reburied the artifacts in Kawaihae Cave, or Forbes Cave.

"I'm in this for whatever has to be done to make this pono, to make it all right," Kawananakoa said in an interview yesterday.

"It is my duty. I will do it with my money and it's a certainty I will do it with my lineage and my koko, or blood, and blood never lies."

Observers believe Kawananakoa's entry into the dispute is key, because she has the wealth and tenacity to finance a fight, even a lengthy one that could wind up in court. To date, Suganuma and other claimants have had only a small war chest compared with the resources of Hui Malama, which includes among its supporters the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, a spokesman and founding member of Hui Malama, has repeatedly said repatriation of the items from Kawaihae Cave was completed when the artifacts were reburied. He has said that the 13 native Hawaiian claimants are now 13 owners, and if there is a dispute, it must be taken to court.

Yesterday Ayau said Kawananakoa "reeks of someone who does not live with Hawaiian tradition."

Ayau said ancestors chose to be buried with the items from Kawaihae Cave, "and who is she to second-guess the decision of our ancestors to reserve heavy-duty cultural objects for themselves, to keep the kii (carved wooden images or idols) to themselves? How can she second-guess our ancestors hundreds of years later?"

Kawananakoa said that sacred artifacts should not be placed in caves to rot, but protected in climate-controlled museums for the benefit of future generations to learn about their heritage.

She noted that the last alii had visited Europe and seen how history was preserved in museums. She noted that Bishop Museum was founded by Charles Reed Bishop, the husband of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, in her name to safeguard her treasures and those of other alii.

Kawananakoa said she first wants to address the dispute over the 83 artifacts from Kawaihae Cave, and then focus on the unsolved 1994 theft of the kaai, two woven sennet baskets containing the bones of two chiefs, from the Bishop Museum.

While the kaai theft was never solved, critics have called it "an inside job" that involved museum staffers. The repatriation of the Kawaihae Cave items has also been criticized as an inside job conducted with the help of museum staff sympathetic to Hui Malama.

Hui Malama was founded in 1989 to repatriate and rebury human remains and native Hawaiian artifacts from museums. Hui Malama and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were the only two organizations to be listed specifically as native Hawaiian organizations in the 1991 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The act, passed with the backing of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, was aimed at righting the wrongs of the past by setting up procedures for Native Americans and Hawaiians to reclaim items from museums.

Ayau worked for Inouye while the bill was written, and later worked for the Bishop Museum as items were inventoried for repatriation in accordance with NAGPRA.

At the heart of the dispute between Suganuma and Hui Malama are 83 artifacts, including several sacred kii taken from Kawaihae Cave in 1905 by David Forbes, a Big Island judge and historian. The items were later sold to the Bishop Museum.

Ayau has often called Forbes and others "grave robbers." He has also long argued that since many of items in the Bishop Museum's collection were acquired in a similar manner, the museum does not really own them under "right of possession" as defined by federal repatriation law.

Yesterday Kawananakoa defended Forbes and others as "men of honor whose work preserved Hawaiian culture from being lost."

In February 2000, several museum staffers crated the Kawaihae items and handed them over to Hui Malama with an inventory that described the transaction as a "one-year loan."

Later, when the museum demanded the return of the items, Ayau and Hui Malama refused. They said they had reburied them in Kawaihae Cave to honor the wishes of ancestors.

A few months later, the museum declared the repatriation final.

"It's horrifying to know that the 83 items were just packed up in secret, behind closed doors, and just handed over," said Kawananakoa.

Suganuma, who teaches and practices lua, a form of Hawaiian martial arts, is one of the 13 Kawaihae claimants and leader of a group that wants the artifacts recovered so that their fate can be decided.

In May 2003, the NAGPRA review committee held a hearing on Kawaihae Cave and concluded it was a "flawed" repatriation and that the items should be retrieved.

Recently the review committee, which has different members now than in 2003, said it would hold hearings in Honolulu in March to reconsider the ruling.

Suganuma said yesterday: "We have a few organizations and a few individuals owning the treasures of our ancestors. That's a problem, and it's contrary to tradition."

He said, "It's time the charlatans were exposed. They present themselves as keepers of the culture. It's a travesty. The Hawaiian people are being robbed, and in some circles they are applauding the robbers."

There is some dispute among native Hawaiians and scholars about what items were actually intended to be buried with ancestors and which items were hidden in the cave later simply to prevent their destruction by missionaries.

Ayau said yesterday, "Why is she (Kawananakoa) getting involved now" in the Kawaihae debate.

"She is the same woman who sat on our throne," said Ayau, referring to a controversial incident in 1998 in which Kawananakoa sat on the throne at Iolani Palace for a Life Magazine photo shoot.

Kawananakoa said she sat lightly on the throne at the photographer's direction, hoping that the photo spread would bring attention to the Hawaiian monarchy and promote the palace restoration in which she had been involved since 1971.

Kawananakoa has retreated noticeably from prominent public view since the incident.

However, the kaai is a personal issue with Kawananakoa, who says they belong to her because "the kaai passed from Queen Kapiolani to Prince Kuhio and now to me through the Kaumualii line, not through the Kamehameha or Kalakaua lines."

Kawananakoa said, "I'm here now and will not budge until right has been done. And if the NAGPRA review committee will not do what is right, I will take it to the courts."

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei
Bishop Museum
U.S. Interior Dept. -NAGPRA

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