So Their Spirits May Rest


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Photo: Edward Halealoha Ayau

Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei Part 8: Empowerment Through Education

We have no ability to gauge our success in repatriation either nationally or internationally since there is no way of knowing for certain how many iwi kūpuna and moepū are actually in museums around the world.

Compounding the problem is the fact that private individuals also stole iwi and moepū, often thinking they were entitled to take based upon their finding the ancestral remains or funerary possessions, despite the fact that the law of abandonment does not apply to human remains and funerary possessions.

It is important that we effectively network with other Indigenous peoples and supporters to continue the search for institutions and private individuals who house iwi kūpuna and moepū in order to bring them home. I’ve networked with Native Americans including attorneys Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee) and Honor Keeler (Cherokee) and Professor Greg Johnson (UC Santa Barbera).

Photo: 2017 Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden Repatriation
2017 Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden Repatriation. – Photo: Courtesy of OHA

Internationally, I worked with Dr. Cressida Fforde of the Australian National University who leads a network that includes Australian Aborigines, Maori, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Ainu called Return, Reconcile, Renew (

The webpage says, in part, “The information in this website is shared with you to increase understanding about repatriation and to help those who wish to locate their Ancestors’ remains and bring them home. There are obligations that come with this knowledge. We ask that you honor the information shared with you, hold it with care, and follow our key principles of responsible use:

  • Use the information in a dignified, sensitive, just and truthful manner
  • Approach its use in a way that assists healing, well-being and reconciliation
  • Support the process of returning Old People to country so their spirits may rest
  • Show bravery and courage in your repatriation work and support the efforts of others
  • Be attentive to your own well-being and that of your colleagues
  • Respect the knowledge shared by community members and their wishes about how it should be shared.”

In order to effectively ensure the return of our ancestors, we must be mindful to train the next generation of practitioners to scour the planet to locate the ancestors and bring them home. While we recognize that one cannot train students to be committed (that is a gift/burden that their ancestors give them) we must be mindful to recognize that trait in them. The work continues.

Edward Halealoha Ayau is the former executive director of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai‘i Nei, a group that has repatriated and reinterred thousands of ancestral Native Hawaiian remains and funerary objects.