Reburied cave items finally back at museum

Honolulu Advertiser
Friday, September 8, 2006

By Gary T. Kubota
gkubota @

Ancient Hawaiian artifacts buried in a cave for more than five years have been returned to the Bishop Museum, said Laakea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts.

Suganuma, whose group pushed for the return of the artifacts, said a full inventory of the items has not been done.

But he said he thinks most of the major pieces were back in the museum.

"I haven't seen them, but I understand they're in good condition," Suganuma said yesterday.

Suganuma said the museum, which completed the task last week with U.S. District Judge David Ezra's consent, took more than a week to find and recover the artifacts, a task made difficult because some were buried under rocks or behind cement walls.

"It took them a while to get through that junk," he said.

The Bishop Museum handed over the 83 artifacts to native group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei in February 2000, and the group reburied them in caves where they were believed to have been taken by explorer David Forbes in the late 1800s.

Forbes had sold the burial artifacts to the museum in the early 1900s.

Some Hawaiians, including Suganuma and Abigail Kawananakoa, filed a lawsuit against the Bishop Museum and Hui Malama and called for the return of the objects.

Suganuma said as one of 14 groups recognized as having an interest in the artifacts based on the federal repatriation law, the Royal Academy should have been consulted before the artifacts were released by the museum.

Suganuma said by taking the relics, Hui Malama violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Suganuma said the main objective was to make sure every claimant, each native Hawaiian organization, is treated fairly and equally.

"Hui Malama did not and does not have the inherent authority to force its beliefs upon, nor does it speak for, the Hawaiian people," Suganuma said. "From its very inception the ... issue has been fraught with lies and deception instead of aloha, the very foundation of the Hawaiian people."

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, president of Hui Malama Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, said he is under a court order from Ezra to say nothing about court proceedings.

But Maxwell, a Hawaiian cultural expert, said if the artifacts have been taken out of the cave, those responsible will have bad luck fall upon them.

"Someone will pay spiritually," Maxwell said.

Maxwell said the artifacts were not on loan to his group when handed over by the Bishop Museum, and from the very start it was the group's intention to return the artifacts to their rightful place.

"All we did was put back what was stolen by Forbes," Maxwell said.

The museum has maintained the artifacts were loaned in good faith.

Maxwell said that over the years his group has taken hundreds of burial artifacts and returned them to their grave sites.

Hui Malama arose in the late 1980s to oppose the development of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua hotel on a burial site.

The hotel was eventually constructed away from the burial grounds.

Congress enacted the Native American Graves measure in 1990, requiring museums and federal agencies to return American Indian, Hawaiian and Alaskan artifacts to descendants or groups to which they belong.

Maxwell said Suganuma had his chance to do something about the artifacts and allowed them to be repatriated in the caves.

Bishop Museum and attorneys for Kawananakoa and Hui Malama declined to comment, based on a gag order placed on them by Ezra.


Now that the artifacts have been returned to the Bishop Museum, native Hawaiian groups with recognized claims to them can decide on their future, said Laakea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts.

"This really puts us back where every claim has an equal right," he said.

Suganuma said there will be further discussions and consultations about the artifacts to determine their final disposition.

Charles Maxwell, whose group buried the artifacts in a cave in Kawaihae, said the proper place for the artifacts is for them to be buried at the grave sites.

He also believes if the artifacts have been returned to the museum, a court order imposed on Hui Malama official Edward Ayau should be lifted.

Ayau was determined to be in contempt of court for refusing to return the artifacts. "He should be let go. They got what they wanted," Maxwell said.

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