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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Burying the past

Deadline set for
return of Forbes
Cave artifacts

The Hawaiian objects must be
in the Bishop Museum by the
first of November

By Burl Burlingame
and Leila Fujimori

Claimants for the missing Forbes Cave artifacts last night gave Bishop Museum until Nov. 1 to have the priceless objects returned.

"That's Nov. 1, if not much sooner," said Clayton Hee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, one of 11 claimant groups. "It only took Hui Malama seven days to hide the artifacts in the first place, so within the next 34 days is more than reasonable."

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei removed the objects from the museum last February to hide them in caves on the Kawaihae Coast of the Big Island. Hui Malama representatives did not attend last night's meeting at Bishop Museum, nor did the Nation of Hawai'i claimant group.

Of the nine claimants there, all were in agreement except for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. "They didn't disagree, with the decision, though," said Hee. "They elected to remain silent."

However Ray Soon, Hawaiian Homes Commission chairman, said that to avoid possible damage, the fragile artifacts should not be constantly moved.

"Our feeling is they are safer in place," Soon said. "We believe in the integrity of Hui Malama."

Soon said the group should decide on the long-term disposition of the artifacts, rather than focus on the recall, which he said the majority of claimants were.

Representing Bishop Museum was executive Betty Tatar -- who surrendered the objects to Hui Malama in February -- and newly hired collections manager Guy Kaulukukui, formerly the museum's director of education.

Kaulukukui said the museum is working closely with claimants to establish the repatriation process.

"We're all going to be working carefully and cautiously," Kaulukukui said.

"Our agreed opinion was that the shroud of secrecy is off, and steps must be taken immediately to ensure the safety of the artifacts," Hee said.

"For myself, I have grave reservations that the artifacts are still there and safe. I'd love to be proven wrong. But if they're not there, the onus and the liability for their safety falls on the museum because the artifacts weren't repatriated, they were loaned.

"If they're not there, the museum is in big, big trouble. It's the museum's kuleana all the way, and they need to be proactive in recovering these items. The mandate from the claimants is absolutely clear on this," Hee said.

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