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Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Claimant groups
worked together on
‘Forbes Cave’ artifacts

Hui Malama and DHHL
officers took a 'field trip'
together to the site

Did Hui Malama break the law?

By Burl Burlingame


Despite public and private recriminations among the four claimants for the missing "Forbes Cave" artifacts, the groups were quietly working together to map out their return to the Kawaihae location.

On Feb. 16, the same day of a Big Island debate over repatriating the Hawaiian artifacts, Hui Malama and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands officers took a "field trip" together to the site because they had no clear idea where the caves were located.

Archaeology firm Cultural Surveys Hawaii was hired under an existing contract with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to lead Hui Malama representatives to the "Forbes Caves" location.

Accompanying archaeologist David Shideler on the short trek into the Kawaihae hills were Hawaiian Homes planning officer Darrell Yagodich, staff planner Joe Chu and Jim Dupont, their Hawaii western-district office manager.

Yagodich said that representatives of the other claimants, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Big Island Burial Council, were also invited on the hike. All four organizations had representatives in Waimea for the public meeting that night.

"DHHL set it up," said Shideler, who was only mildly surprised when Hui Malama representatives showed up.

"It was kind of a field trip," said Shideler. "It's not really a tough hike. We waited around for the Hui Malama folks -- Eddie Ayau and Kunani Nihipali and an expert in masonry -- but they were late and we got started without them, and they had to catch up."

The masonry expert, Yagodich said, was Hui Malama associate Billy Fields, of Fields Masonry. Recent descriptions of the caves state that masonry has been applied. "He was there to kind of spec it out," Yagodich said.

Ayau, Nihipali and Fields entered the cave and explored.

That night at the debate, Hui Malama founder and Hilo resident Ed Kanahele fell dead. Ayau, who called Kanahele his "kumu," has indicated that Hui Malama's rush to hide the artifacts was exacerbated by his mentor's death.

Despite the field trip together, less than a week later, Hawaiian Homes Chairman Ray Soon sent a letter to Bishop Museum Vice President Elizabeth Tatar, ordering her not to surrender the objects to Hui Malama.

On Feb. 25, Hui Malama representatives, calling from Hawaiian Homes offices, informed Tatar that all claimant groups were in agreement on Hui Malama taking the artifacts, and the next day received the artifacts from Tatar.

On Feb. 28, Yagodich informed Tatar that no such agreement existed. Since then, the artifacts -- appraised to be worth millions of dollars -- have vanished.

Did Hui Malama
break the law?

By Burl Burlingame


State officials say Hui Malama's security measures at "Forbes Cave" -- including bringing in masonry expert Billy Fields to wall up the entrance -- possibly violate state law that forbids disturbing known burial sites. But it's unlikely they will be charged.

Assistant Attorney General Dawn Chang, who successfully prosecuted a burial-site disturbance case on Molokai, said Chapter 6E, Section 11 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes forbids "intentional disturbance" or "altering" a known burial site. "It's in the penalties section, but these are civil cases, not criminal cases," Chang said.

During the "field trip" to Forbes Cave on Feb. 16, archaeologist David Shideler entered the Kawaihae cave deeply enough to confirm the location.

He was the archaeologist who had done a burial-site survey of the caves for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in 1989, copies of which were filed with the state Historic Preservation Division, which enforces burial law. The caves contain bone fragments from previously overlooked excavations and also from reinterred Hawaiian remains.

Although Hui Malama has admitted altering the historic burial site at Forbes Cave, to the extent of at least erecting security measures, preservation head Don Hibbard said his office has never considered prosecuting Hui Malama. Hui Malama head Eddie Ayau is a former preservation employee.

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