Documents may shed new light on buried artifacts

January 11, 2006 06:09 PM

Ron Mizutani

Two documents written in the early 1900s may shed light on the current dispute over a collection of burial objects hidden in a Big Island cave.

One is a report written by the man who took the objects from the cave more than 100 years ago, the other is a letter written in response to his findings.

The documents may answer questions as to why a man was willing to go to jail for refusing to tell a federal judge where his group restored what he calls stolen items, and why he never intended to return them to the Bishop Museum.

The documents were given to us by a woman who is not a part of Hui Malama.

Lani Kiesel is concerned about a letter written by William Brigham, the Bishop Museum's director 100 years ago.

"It implies some wrongdoings," says Kiesel.

In it, Brigham, who was also an attorney, responds to David Forbes and his discovery of human remains and objects in a Big Island cave.

"He's asking Mr. Forbes to keep the matter quiet, for there are severe laws here concerning burial caves and I should make the matter public of course until you say so," says Kiesel.

The letter goes on to say: "If you should wish to keep the collection or part of it -- the coelo, or cave -- from this place."

"Throw any suspicious persons off the scent," says Kiesel.

But despite the letter a transaction happens anyway.

"They chose to go ahead and purchase the items that were in what they knew to be burial caves," says Kiesel.

A copy of the 1905 receipt reveals the price -- $472.

Kiesel also shares another document that angers her -- a report written by Forbes in England in 1909.

In it he shares: "But beyond what we saw the mummy remains of many Hawaiians, in the sitting position, wrapped up in their ancient tapa clothes.

"He also says that there were hundreds of other Hawaiians buried in that cave," says Kiesel. "He's aware of Hawaiian protocol. He knows that you don't enter, you don't disturb...I did it anyway and this is my experience with essence it supports Hui Malama's stand that these were buried with kupuna iwi...the bones of our would be if we went up to Punchbowl and started to dig up the soldiers and take all that's important to them and then bury it back."

Kiesel says this has gone on too long, and believes Hui Malama's executive director, Edward Halealoha Ayau, should not be in jail.

"He's in jail because he told the truth and that's what this article is doing, is verifying everything that they've been saying," says Kiesel.

The Bishop Museum historically and currently supports the repatriation process, which gives equal voice to all 14 groups who've been recognized as having rightful claims to the Kawaihae caves items.

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