Hui Malama 'shocked' over black-market artifacts

Sen. Inouye says he is concerned and his office will gather information

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Friday, August 13, 2004

By Sally Apgar

The spokesman for a native Hawaiian organization that once fought Bishop Museum for the repossession of sacred artifacts said yesterday he is shocked that some of the items recently showed up for sale in a Big Island antique store.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, a founding member of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei ("group caring for the ancestors of Hawaii") said yesterday, "First of all, we are shocked to find out that someone is offering Hawaiian items for sale, and we would support any federal effort to stop or prohibit their sale."

Ayau was responding to Star-Bulletin reports that U.S. Interior Department agents are investigating how Hawaiian burial objects once owned by the Bishop Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., ended up on the black market. Sources close to the investigation have said the items had been repatriated by the museums to Hui Malama for reburial in ancestral caves.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, author of the Native American Grave Protection Repatriation Act in 1990, said he was unaware of the possible black market trafficking of the artifacts and only heard about it by reading the newspaper Wednesday.

"It obviously concerns me," he said at a federal Department of Transportation news conference yesterday about new ferry boats for the Arizona Memorial. "I don't know the facts, and not only as a senator, but also a lawyer, I think it would be wrong for me to make any judgments."

He added that his office will make inquiries and gather information that is available throughout the investigation.

This week, federal agents executed search warrants on a Kona antique store and the home of the store's owner and recovered objects that had been repatriated to Hui Malama in 1997 and 2003.

Ayau declined further comment on the investigation.

No arrests have been made, and investigators are not saying how the objects, believed to have been previously reburied in Kanupa caves on the Big Island, came to be offered for sale to select collectors.

Hui Malama is a native Hawaiian organization founded in 1989 for the purpose of repatriating human remains and other native Hawaiian artifacts and reburying them in burial caves in accordance with the wishes of ancestors.

Earlier this week, a collector of Hawaiian artifacts told the Star-Bulletin he was secretly shown three rare hand-carved bowls, some burial kapa and a gourd container and cover in the Kona antique store.

"They wanted a lot of money," said the collector, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity and has been helping Interior Department agents who are investigating the criminal case.

The collector said he immediately recognized the items he was shown at the antique store as pieces that belonged to the J.S. Emerson collection. He said some items still had the same identification numbers.

In 1858, Joseph Emerson found the pieces in Kanupa Cave, a burial cave for lesser chiefs on the Big Island. In the late 1880s he sold some of the items to the Bishop Museum. In 1907 he sold other items to the Peabody Essex Museum.

News of the alleged trafficking is coming at a time of bitter debate at the Bishop Museum over the interpretation of a federal law that legislates who should be safeguarding native Hawaiian artifacts: museums or native Hawaiian groups who want to rebury them in sacred graves to honor their ancestors.

Star-Bulletin reporter Laurie Au contributed to this report.

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei

Bishop Museum

U.S. Interior Dept. -NAGPRA

2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --

Original article URL:

Return to Repatriation page

Return to News page

Ho`iho`i Mai