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Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Bishop Museum brochure, 1984
This is an image of one of two female figures found in the
"Forbes Cave." Made of wood with human hair, it was
used for many years as a marketing image
by Bishop Museum.

We were misled
on artifacts by
Hawaiian group

Bishop Museum says
Hui Malama claimed it had the
consent of other groups

Man who reburied artifacts
was fulfilling mentor's wish

By Burl Burlingame


Bishop Museum director Don Duckworth says the museum "loaned" artifacts worth millions of dollars to the repatriation group Hui Malama "in good faith, with the understanding that the items would be placed in a secure interim facility on Hawaii island."

The museum also was assured by Hui Malama that three other claimants to the artifacts "were not in disagreement, and that such actions would not affect final disposition," Duckworth wrote in a letter to Robert Stanton, director of the National Park Service, which administers the federal law that governs such transfers of cultural items.

Edward Ayau, the Hui Malama representative who signed for the artifacts when they were removed from Bishop Museum on Feb. 26, indicated to museum staff this week that the items have been secretly reburied on the Big Island.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, another claimant to the "Forbes Cave" artifacts, along with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Big Island Burial Council, says the others never agreed to the secret transfer to Hui Malama and has asked the National Parks Service to investigate.

The museum broke its silence on the matter after being stung by public criticism of the disappearance of the priceless artifacts and a mutiny among its own professional staff.

The museum and the four claimant groups had earlier met and agreed to keep all discussion confidential, Duckworth wrote to Stanton.

"I wish to assure you that the Bishop Museum is committed to full compliance with NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and its rules and regulations," Duckworth wrote. "I also wish to assure you that the Bishop Museum is fully aware of the sensitive and complex nature of this matter, and that we undertook our action in good faith, in the interests of facilitating the repatriation of the remains and funerary objects from the Kawaihae Cave Complex."

In a separate faxed statement, Bishop Museum spokeswoman Ruth Ann Becker said that while the loan was unusual, it "isn't illegal, nor is it inappropriate."

She said Bishop Museum believed the loan was being made with the permission of other claimants. According to Becker, when Hui Malama contacted Bishop Museum vice president Elizabeth Tatar and instructed her to prepare the loan, they "were calling from DHHL's office, and told her that they had DHHL's concurrence. As we all now know ... they didn't."

Tim McKeown NAGPRA administrator for the National Park Service, said the museum may still have "custody" of the objects and therefore responsibility for their safekeeping even though they were "loaned" to Hui Malama.

McKeown said that since NAGPRA was enacted in 1990, there have been 16 violations of its procedures by museums -- mostly for not completing inventories on time.

"Forbes Cave" artifacts

Bullet Discovered nearly a century ago near Kawaihae on the Big Island's Kohala Coast, they include carved-wood statuettes, aumakua, carved bowls, ipu, tools, gourd water bottles and feather capes. Appraisers say the items are worth millions of dollars.

Bullet Housed in the Bishop Museum since 1906, the items were secretly "loaned" by the museum on Feb. 26 to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawaii Nei, one of four organizations that claimed the artifacts under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Other claimants included the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Big Island Burial Council.

Bullet The artifacts are believed to have been reburied on the Big Island.

Man who reburied
artifacts was fulfilling
mentor’s wish

By Burl Burlingame


The decision to remove Hawaiian cultural artifacts last month from Bishop Museum may have been pushed by an unexpected death earlier on the Big Island.

Edward Kanahele of Hilo, a driving force in the move to repatriate the artifacts, collapsed Feb. 16 at a public hearing sponsored by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in Waimea on the fate of the "Forbes Caves" artifacts. Kanahele, a founder of the repatriation group Hui Malama, died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Edward Ayau, the Hui Malama representative who signed for the artifacts 10 days later when Bishop Museum secretly "loaned" them to Hui Malama, has since defended his actions as carrying out Kanahele's dying wish.

At a Bishop Museum staff meeting last week, an emotional Ayau referred to Kanahele as his "kumu," or mentor, and said that taking and secretly reburying the artifacts was "pono" -- for the greater good, according to those who attended the meeting.

Those present at the Waimea meeting Feb. 16 said Kanahele and Big Island Hawaiian health kupuna Henry "Papa" Auwae disagreed over what should be done with the artifacts.

Kanahele favored repatriation and reburial. Auwae argued that the safest place for the artifacts was in the museum.

Mel Kalahiki, a volunteer worker at a Big Island heiau who attended the meeting, said the majority of the audience favored Auwae's view. "People felt that since the caves were robbed a couple of times already, treasure hunters would come for them again," said Kalahiki.

Auwae and Kanahele each gave a genealogical analysis claiming direct descent from those ancient Hawaiians buried in Forbes Cave. Auwae cautioned that "you have to be careful" with Hawaiian religious beliefs, illustrating his point with the observation that Kanahele's brother-in-law had been killed in a head-on collision an hour after making chants at a Big Island heiau that some considered inappropriate.

Suddenly, Kanahele began gasping for breath and died while being taken away in an ambulance.

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands planning officer Darrell Yagodich was at the meeting and said: "It was like Ed had made his last statement, and that was it."

"His wife said it was his heart, but I don't know," Kalahiki said. "My thing is that the objects represent more than just one person, or just one organization. They symbolize all of my people. You have to be careful when you mess with that."

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