Hui lays claim to artifact on Moloka'i

Honolulu Advertiser
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Hawaiian group has filed a federal complaint over title to a Moloka'i cultural object that has been restored to its place of origin but still is owned by the Bishop Museum.

The group, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, wrote to the review committee that settles disputes over native burials and cultural artifacts to assert its ownership of the Kalaina Wawae ("the feet of Kalaina"). The artifact comprises three sandstone slabs that for more than a year have been on display on a bluff above Mo'omomi Bay, in northwest Moloka'i.

The slabs of lithified sand contain oblong depressions said to have been made by a prophetess named Kalaina, who had recurring dreams of strangers coming and taking the land from the Hawaiians. The depressions have square heels and lack toe marks, similar to footprints made by the boot-wearing foreigners who would arrive centuries later.

The hui followed a federal law allowing it to claim the slabs as an "object of cultural patrimony" defined as something that is of collective cultural importance to a native people. In the written complaint, signed by group leader Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., the hui contends that it gained ownership of the Kalaina under procedures outlined in the law because there were no competing claimants.

This occurred, the hui argues, despite the private agreement struck between the museum and another group, Hui Malama 'o Mo'omomi, caretakers of the area. Maxwell wrote in the letter that his group was included in a draft agreement but later was eliminated; the final accord was signed by Mo'omomi member Kelson "Mac" Poepoe "under protest," Maxwell added.

William Brown, museum president, said in a written statement that museum lawyers and officials have arrived at the opposite conclusion: that the slabs do not qualify as cultural patrimony and have not been legally repatriated.

And Poepoe said the issue of ownership is of little concern.

"I'm happy that the thing finally came home. It's very secure — it's cemented down, so it's never going anyplace," he said. "Now that that stone is back home, everything is good."

Reach Vicki Viotti at or 525-8053.

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