Hui Malama gets new court date

Honolulu Advertiser
Friday, December 23, 2005

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

  • PDF file: Order issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge David Ezra

    Before a judge decides whether they should be jailed, fined or both, members of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei will have a chance to explain why they are refusing to follow a federal court order.

    U.S. District Judge David Ezra had given Hui Malama until 4 p.m. Wednesday to disclose the locations of 83 priceless cultural objects believed to be buried in two remote Big Island caves. The nonprofit Native Hawaiian organization borrowed the objects from Bishop Museum in 2000 and has not returned them.

    Ezra yesterday ordered Hui Malama's executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau and its board of directors to appear in his courtroom on Tuesday. Ayau said he and the others will appear in court and "show cause why we should not be held in contempt. It's up to him to decide whether what we're saying is contemptuous or not."

    Meanwhile, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, one of the two Native Hawaiian groups that first challenged Hui Malama's actions, broke several days of silence by criticizing Hui Malama for its "history of misleading and evasive statements." Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts sued Hui Malama and the museum seeking the return of the artifacts until claimants to the items can agree on where they should go.

    Rather than disclosing the locations of the objects, Hui Malama members Wednesday issued declarations explaining that their religious and cultural beliefs bar them from revealing the exact whereabouts.

    In yesterday's four-page order, Ezra made it clear he found Hui Malama's response noncompliant with his order "since it did not include the precise locations of each and every item loaned to it by the Bishop Museum as described in the order, or the names and addresses of each person who has knowledge of the exact location of any of the items."

    He ordered Ayau and Hui Malama board members Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele, Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., William Aila and Antoinette Freitas to appear before him at 10 a.m. Tuesday "to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with this Court's Order Settling Compliance Dates."

    Ayau yesterday repeated Hui Malama's position that removal of the items would be tantamount to stealing, in addition to being offensive and a disturbance to the "moe loa," or eternal rest, of those buried in the caves. The objects, known as the Forbes Collection, were taken from the Big Island in 1905 by Western archaeologists.

    On Tuesday, Ayau said, Ezra "went out of his way to say he was not going to force Hui Malama to violate its First Amendment rights but in the very next breath orders us to disclose information that would cause us to violate our First Amendment rights." Hui Malama is not seeking to show disrespect against either Ezra or the court, he said. The group simply believes its first obligation is to its ancestors, not to the court, he said.

    Ayau also reiterated that he stands ready to go to jail for contempt if the judge orders it. "If that's what court decides is our penalty ... then that's what's going to happen," he said.

    Alan Murakami, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Hui Malama, said Tuesday's hearing will be significant. "The judge is going to determine if my clients' religious beliefs are deserving of constitutional protection," he said.

    Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, a group headed by Abigail Kawananakoa, said there was a "troubling revelation" in Hui Malama's findings last Friday that the objects are in two caves rather than in one as previously stated, and that the objects are not secure.

    Murakami said Hui Malama had always referred generally to the Kawaihae Cave complex, which included both the Forbes and Mummy caves that were disclosed last week. He said Hui Malama believes that the caves are sealed and secure.

    Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at

    © COPYRIGHT 2005 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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