1. Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, a plaintiff, is a relative of Kamehameha. Thus she has roots on the Big Island where Kamehameha is from.
2. One of her ancestors, Kamehameha, fought with other Hawaiians just as she is fighting with other Hawaiians.
3. Eddie Ayau, the executive director of Hui Malama, is presently in federal custody. He too is from the Big Island.
4. Hawaiians fought with each other... then and now.
These are key.
Today at www.courttv.com there is a story about this case:
Hawaiian artifacts, including a funerary bowl studded with human teeth, are at the center of a legal battle.
What would the ancestors want? A suit over Hawaiian artifacts could decide
When an explorer named David Forbes dug up ancient artifacts from a Hawaiian cave 100 years ago and sold them to a Honolulu museum, was it an act of grave robbing, or was he guided by the spiritual wishes of the dead?
That is the deeper question underlying a federal suit funded by a Hawaiian princess and filed against a native Hawaiian organization that reburied the collection of artifacts five years ago in the same Big Island cave where they were first unearthed in 1905.
"It was there for three or 400 years before Mr. Forbes stole it. It's supposed to deteriorate in the burial tomb. That's what it does," said Rev. Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, president of the board of directors of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, a native organization that believes the cultural relics should stay in their sacred resting place. "It was not meant for us. For us, we feel it's very bad luck to even touch those items."
But another group, the Royal Academy of Traditional Arts, wants the items retrieved from the cave so that the process of "repatriation," or returning the items to their rightful owners, can continue. Ultimately, they'd like to see the items put on display in a Hawaiian-owned museum "for the people of the world to view."
"I believe, and anybody who thinks in a Hawaiian fashion would know this, I believe the ancestors allowed the items to be discovered," said La'akea Suganuma, the academy's president.
He is suing Hui Malama along with Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, a group founded by Abigail Kawananakoa, an heiress and royal Hawaiian who is footing the legal bill.
They say Hui Malama has violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) as well as Fifth Amendment property rights laws.
Earlier this month, a federal judge sided with Suganuma and his royal co-plaintiff, and ordered Hui Malama to dig up and return the items by Sept. 23 to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
Hui Malama filed an emergency appeal, and a stay was granted by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the ancient remains to stay in their cavernous tomb until the appeals court makes a final decision.
But instead of taking years for the appeals process, which is typical, the court has fast-tracked the case and will make a decision in December.
Some of the items in dispute include funerary pieces, such as a wig made of human hair, a bowl embedded with human teeth, and carved gods that Hui Malama believes were meant to accompany the dead for eternity.
"It is very similar to putting a ring on your grandmother when she dies — jewelry to accompany her into eternity — and then 200, 300 years down the line, someone discovers the objects and takes them off her body," Maxwell said.
He and his attorney claim that when Forbes sold the stolen items to the Bishop Museum in 1905, they agreed to keep the illegal sale "under wraps," according to their correspondence.
Hui Malama was formed in 1988 on the heels of a dispute between native Hawaiians and the builders of a Ritz Carlton hotel, which was planned on a burial site.
The hotel was eventually constructed inland, away from the ancestral grounds.
In 1990, Congress enacted NAGPRA, which requires museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American, Hawaiian and Alaskan artifacts to the descendants or organizations to which they belong.
The act gave Hui Malama legal standing to care for and protect na iwi kupuna, or "ancestral remains."
Since then, the group has repatriated and reinterred artifacts returned from more than two dozen museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the Field Museum in Chicago.
The Bishop Museum loaned the 83 items from the Kawaihae caves collection to Hui Malama in February 2000.
Under NAGPRA guidelines, 13 native Hawaiian organizations were found to be culturally affiliated with the items, some after the items had already been reburied.
The museum has since asked for the items to be returned and for the repatriation process to continue.
"They've recognized the so-called princess as a claimant ... unilaterally deciding the repatriation process has to be reopened and renewed, despite two published notices that it is complete," said attorney Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.
The museum did not return calls for comment.
A NAGPRA review committee also determined that the repatriation process the museum followed was "flawed and remains incomplete." NAGPRA advised the museum to recall its so-called loan, reopen the process and reconsult with all interested parties. The NAGPRA program office did not return calls for comment.
If the appeals court finds that Hui Malama must return the objects, it would mean digging up the buried items from their secret resting place.
"We won't do it. We'll defy the court's order," Maxwell said, adding that he was prepared to defy the Sept. 23 deadline before the stay was granted. "I gathered my family a week ago and told them I might be arrested. I'm 68 years old, and I'm in a wheelchair, but I would be willing to sacrifice myself for my culture."
His attorney contends that forcing the group to dig up the items would be "totally against their fundamental religious cultural beliefs," and a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Not to mention, it could be dangerous.
The cave has been sealed and reinforced to protect against future theft, according to Maxwell.
"The cave is very unstable. If you move one rock, the entire cave could collapse," he said.
Suganuma claims he has offered to retrieve the items himself, but will leave the matter up to the courts. He believes the outcome is not really in his hands, but is being guided by a higher authority.
"What I want to see is the wishes of the ancestors," Suganuma said. "What will be will be — all in its own timing."
Therefore, I do not blame Suganuma nor Kawananakoa for suing Hui Malama. They have a right to do so. However Ayau has rights too. In addition while it is very unfortunate that Haole law and Haole people are involved sometimes it is necessary since it's a reality that Hawaii is the 50th state albeit illegally. In any case, Hawaiians fought with each other then... and now. So did Kamehameha. Kamehameha fought with other Hawaiians too yet if he did not... he would never have united the Hawaiian Islands and by 1819 the Kingdom of Hawaii was born. I hope that other Hawaiians remember this key point about who we are and about our history.
Umia ka hanu!