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Saturday, June 24, 2000


OHA committee
endorses museum’s
stand on artifacts

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- A deeply divided Land Committee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs voted 3-2 yesterday to endorse Bishop Museum's plan to demand the return of burial-cave artifacts that were loaned to a Hawaiian organization, Hui Malama, which has hidden them in a cave.

OHA logo The OHA board of trustees is expected to be equally divided when it considers the issue, but it appears it will back the Bishop Museum desire to force the return of the artifacts. Bishop Museum has set a July 1 deadline for an OHA endorsement or it will go ahead without OHA and demand the items be returned.

The clear threat is that if the items are not returned, Hui Malama members could face arrest.

The artifacts originally were taken from a burial cave on the Big Island known as Forbes Cave beginning in 1904 and sold or given to the Bishop Museum. After borrowing them from Bishop Museum in February, Hui Malama members buried them in an undisclosed cave on the Big Island.

"The alii of the area had already clearly determined the purpose of the objects was to follow them to the afterlife and is not for any living persons," Wilma Holi, Kauai's representative to Hui Malama, told the OHA committee yesterday. "The worst thing we could do is separate them from their possessions. We don't have the right."

But Bishop Museum directors and a majority on the OHA committee believe the items, which include carved figures that would be valuable to collectors, are not safe because too many people know at least the general location of the cave.

"There is a fear someone will be tempted by a $1 million artifact," said trustee Mililani Trask.

And there is a question of whether the items are burial-related.

"One person has come to me and told me this was their family's burial cave and the items are not funeral artifacts," Trask said. The family claims they are traditional Hawaiian art works hidden in the cave during the Kapu period when Christian missionaries and their followers were destroying everything that came from Hawaiian culture, Trask said.

Initially, four groups claimed they had the right to take the artifacts away from Bishop Museum. Since the items were hidden and the controversy erupted, the number has swollen to 16.

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